Living out his rugby dreams, Matt Ritani is now inspiring the next generation of students at Fountain Gate Secondary College to do the same.
The Rugby Academy Director at the Narre Warren based school has played rugby since he could walk.
Growing up in Christchurch, New Zealand, he rose the ranks from primary school through to seniors, making Canterbury representative and Maori sides along the way.
Ritani then embarked on a four-year global adventure, putting his talents on show internationally in Spain, Ireland and Portugal.
Now in Melbourne, Ritani is using his teaching degree and passion for the sport to shape the future generation of Victorian rugby stars – while playing for back-to-back Dewar Shield reigning premiers, Melbourne Rugby Club this season.
Ritani says he is committed to putting his years of experience into further developing the state-class rugby academy at Fountain Gate Secondary College.
“We are really fortunate that we have the rugby academy integrated as a subject to the student’s regular timetables, so we can spend quality class time developing our students,” Ritani said.
“We have a double period a week where we focus on improving individual rugby skills, team training and fitness. Then there is one period in the weights room following rugby specific strength and conditioning programs, followed by one period that is classroom-based where the students will be working on their VET Sport and Rec Certificates.”
“Then finally we have an after-school training for boys and girls and then run a separate pre-academy training for all year 7-8 students interested in rugby.”
The Teachers Ambassador program recognises the teachers who support the delivery of rugby in our Victorian schools to grow and develop our great game.
In partnership with Rugby Victoria and the Melbourne Rebels, Fountain Gate Secondary College has access to great resources, support, and elite coaches, giving students every opportunity to develop as rugby players
According to Ritani, his inclusion in the inaugural Teachers Ambassador program has given him the platform to promote the values of rugby throughout the school.
“I’m really proud to be a part of the Teachers Ambassadors program,” he said
“It’s positive for the game and especially schools that are in the growing stages of their own rugby programs to have leaders like this in them, and we will hopefully see more growth state-wide in the sport.”
With an unprecedented number of students participating in rugby at Fountain Gate in 2021, Ritani believes the rugby program’s proof is in the pudding.
“There is such a huge base here of talented rugby players at FG and these kids are all keen to play or be involved with rugby at the school. The more opportunities we give them, the better,” he said.
“We have even just added in a Year 8 rugby class as a single semester subject to give the kids of any rugby background or experience an introduction into the sport. It is good insight for them into how the rugby academy will be for these students thinking to apply for it in Year 9. I have already seen a large number of kids getting involved with rugby clubs just this year from these classes, which is awesome.”
“We are able to use this time to prepare for any events and Gala days that are coming up, especially now with the Rebel Shield.”
Fountain Gate met rival Victorian Rugby School Academy, The Grange, in the U18 Vic School 7s State Championships Grand Final held in May.
Both schools had secured the Championship over the last few years and have several Melbourne Rebels Academy players scattered amongst their squads. It was always going to be an entertaining battle.
In the end, the Ritani led Fountain Gate proved too dominant, winning the Championship 26-7, with student and Melbourne Rebels Academy player Lebron Naea claiming Player of the Final.
“I was extremely proud of the boys winning that,” Ritani said.
“But what I was happiest about was just seeing them all get out and finally play. They represented our school and academy with pride, and it had been a long time since they had the chance to do that. I think it’s great the kids had the opportunity to get out there and as a school look forward to playing in the next 7’s comps with our U14/U16 boys and girls.”
After defeating rivals, The Grange, Fountain Gate now has its sights firmly set on its next challenge – lifting the inaugural Rebels Shield.
The Rebels Shield will be the ‘first of its kind in Victoria’ as an exciting new interschool midweek rugby competition with U16 boys and girls from selected schools competing in August.
Ritani believes it will be an incredible opportunity for his students to showcase their talents to the rest of Victoria.
“I think it’s massive,” he said.
“At the end of the day, all the kids want to do is play.”
“I think as well for the girls getting to play 10’s will be massive for them, as they can be limited in the amount of rugby they can play if there aren’t teams available for them at their local clubs, so it’s a really positive step for the game in Victoria.
“These upcoming five games are going to be huge for the kids and are a reward for all the hard work they put in throughout the year.”
Fountain Gate’s rugby program has gone from strength to strength in 2021, with a plethora of the school’s future rugby stars signing to the Melbourne Rebels Academy and Victorian State teams this year.
Ritani is now committed to building on the solid foundation that has been set and leading Fountain Gate’s rugby program well into the future.
“I love seeing more and more kids get involved with playing and enjoying a game I’m passionate about.”
“Growing the game in Victoria will see a lot of positives for our kids as it’s a great team sport and builds a lot of character. I’m committed to keep building on the solid platform that has been set and continue to positively influence young players on their rugby journeys.”
“I want us to keep strong connections with the community and local rugby clubs so that we can keep positive relationships with them and attract the top up-and-coming talent.”
“I would love to build Fountain Gate into a powerhouse rugby academy that is recognised throughout Australia that can rival even the biggest rugby schools in states like NSW and QLD.”
For more information on the Teacher Ambassador Program being run through Rugby Victoria in partnership with the Melbourne Rebels, get in contact with Game Development Manager Samantha Homewood via email at Samantha.firstname.lastname@example.org