Retiring from professional rugby in 2006, Joe Roff is one of the most capped players in Australian Rugby history. With a rugby career spanning more than a decade, his impressive line of credits include playing in three Rugby World Cups, including Australia’s victory in 1999, winning the Tri Nations in 2000 and 2001 and completing a successful series against the British and Irish Lions in 2001. He has also played overseas for Biarritz, Kubota and Oxford University. Joe was kind enough to talk to me about all things rugby.
Name: Joe Roff
Position: Wing / Fullback
Super Rugby Team: Brumbies
Other Teams: Biarritz, Kubota and Oxford
National Team: Wallabies
How/Why did you start playing rugby?
I played soccer up until I was 14 when I moved to Canberra with my family. I ended up going to Marist College Canberra and all of my friends were playing rugby so it made sense to play. I think this is largely the reason we all start playing the game.
Who was the greatest influence on your career?
My godfather was Greg Cornelsen (say no more), and he gave me one of his Wallaby jerseys when I was about 10. I remember asking dad whether I could hug him for giving it to me and dad said I should shake his hand, look him in the eye and thank him. Greg is a humble Wallaby legend with huge mits for hands, and I tried to emulate his values and perspective on the game.
Who was the toughest player you played against?
Rapeni Caucaubuca, the Fijian flyer. Sheer speed, I recall him gliding past me once and I called ‘touch’ on him but he didn’t come back for it. I played against a number of great wingers (Lomu, Wilson, Rockocoko etc) but his sheer blistering speed was amazing.
What was your favourite stadium to play in?
Canberra Stadium is my ‘home ground’ and I love it. In terms of tests it is hard to distinguish between the home nations grounds of Murrayfield, Millenium, Lansdowne Road and Twickenham. Each have their distinct atmosphere and sense of history that make them incredibly special. I disliked stadiums that were cricket grounds and where the crowd was too far from the action.
Other than the RWC win, what was another career highlight?
The Lions tour in 2001 was special. It was a great series and with them coming to our shores next year I recall it as a very special period for the Wallaby team in 2001.
What was your biggest disappointment?
The 2003 RWC final loss to England was a tough one to lose on our home shores. The 1 point loss in the 2000 Super 12 final to the Crusaders in Canberra in the snow was heart breaking as well, and only salved by a win the next year.
What are the biggest obstacles facing today’s game?
The IRB needs to be progressive in its thinking about the game. If we remain conservative and don’t seek to expand the game and make it more entertaining other sports will and we will lose fans. We will always have rugby because it is what is and we love it, but in general the conservative nature of the IRB is a big challenge for driving the game into the future.
Where would you like to see rugby in 10 years time?
As a global provincial game. We really need to see the Brumbies, Bulls, and Crusaders playing Leicester, Stade Francais and Munster. The game has the opportunity to be truly global and I think that is the next big movement.
Very special. The Brumbies are my home team and there is something special about sharing a title with your own community and where you walk the streets and frequent the cafes – when you look into the crowd at those finals and can hear your mates calling out to you (with a few under their belt of course) it has a different but no less special feel to the enormity of a rugby world cup final.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming Super Rugby season?
It is going to be exciting. One cannot pick form at the moment, but riding the success of the World Cup the New Zealand teams will be riding high and confident they can build on this.
Do you have a favourite player / team?
My wife thinks I have a crush on Pat McCabe. Great player and team man, hard running and hard working, and a nice guy to boot. Perhaps I do have a crush on him. As for my favourite team, there can be only one.
What was it like to play in the Rugby World Cup final in 1999?
Enormous. It is rugbys Mt Everest, and to hold the cup aloft in an Australian jersey is the greatest moment that you can dream of as a kid. I am very fortunate in life that this dream became a reality for me. Very fortunate.
What was it like when Jonny Wilkinson kicked ‘that kick’ in 2003?
Surreal. I was on the wing and watched him drop into the pocket and knew what was going to happen but that there was nothing I could do but watch from where I was.
Did you enjoy your time playing in England, France and Japan?
Loved my time in each of the countries I lived. Travelling is one of the truly great aspects of rugby. Each experience was different in so many ways however I feel like I have experienced a lifetime of travel and experiences as a result of rugby, and will always be thankful for this.
Was there a huge difference between their style of play than in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere?
Such different styles between Japan, France and England that I would need to write a thesis to do it justice.
How are you enjoying life after rugby?
Very happy. Now that I am working in a ‘real job’ I understand the value of a weekend, of time in the backyard, and of being on the other side of the fence at a Brumbies match with a beer and a pie in my hand. It is far more civilized than actually playing. I have three young children and I think the boys are ready to start coming out to Canberra stadium. Life is good.
Have the likes of Tana Umaga pulling on the boots at 37 inspired you to make a comeback?
Do you think players are prepared enough for life/career after rugby?
I get anxious about this subject. The average life span of a professional rugby player in Australia is less than 5 years. Rugby provides wonderful values, sense of team, discipline and other virtues, but unless players really seek to utilise and leverage these virtues into something else following rugby then it is a long life looking back saying they were the best years of my life. The best years should always be ahead of you.
Are you still involved with rugby?
I am on the Board at the Brumbies. It is a challenging time for sporting organisations generally, and this is no different to the Brumbies. But it wouldn’t be fun if rugby was always easy.