Michael Dowsett: The scrumhalf who never gave up

By Sam Ryan

In the past five years, Michael Dowsett has played professional rugby on five different continents.

He’s played 22 Super Rugby matches, helped Northern Suburbs break a 41-year Shute Shield premiership drought and taken on some of the UK and Europe’s best with his current club Worcester.

Not bad for a kid that couldn’t crack the first XV at school.

While Dowsett is happy to admit he’s never been the most naturally talented footballer, few have a greater love for the game than the self confessed “rugby nerd,” who has used his incessant drive and passion to forge a prosperous rugby career that is showing no signs of slowing up.

I met Mike as a fifteen year old playing junior rugby at Burraneer in Sydney’s south. After failing to win a game a year earlier, we were struggling for numbers and were searching far and wide for players ahead of the upcoming season.

Dowsett was at school with a teammate of mine and despite living in Pymble, on the complete opposite side of Sydney, he somehow managed to convince his parents to take the hour plus drive twice a week to help us get a team on the park.

“Growing up I absolutely loved rugby and I still do,” he told Rugby News as he drove to training on a cold spring morning in Worcester.

“Maybe not quite as much as I did when I played with Burraneer, but it’s always been a huge part of my life and I still find myself following it as much as I can even when I’m not playing.”

The 25-year old is now in his second season with English Premiership club Worcester Warriors and moved to the UK after playing two seasons of Super Rugby with the Brumbies.

But his rugby journey and development is far from typical. Despite his love for the game, Dowsett was repeatedly overlooked for a spot in his school’s first XV, something that wasn’t easy for the obsessed teenager.

“I guess not making every team I would have liked at school was pretty disappointing at the time but I kept playing. I’m a pretty competitive guy so I never let it get me down too much, I really just used it as motivation,” he said.

“It puts a bit of a chip on your shoulder to work hard and hope that you will reap the rewards eventually and I feel that’s what happened.”

After finishing school, Dowsett joined Shute Shield club Northern Suburbs and after a decent growth spurt, spent two seasons in the club’s first grade colts side before pushing his way into grade.

While the tale has grown legs over the years, Dowsett had spent the majority of 2013 playing first grade and found himself in the right place at the right time midway through his first season in the top grade.

“I think we were playing Gordon and Bernie (then Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham) was there watching one or two of the other boys and I just happened to have a good game and I think they just kept there eye on me from there,” he said.

“That gave me a bit more confidence and I had a few more good games and before I knew it, the Brumbies had offered me a contract.”

Suddenly, the relatively unknown halfback was training with the likes of David Pocock, Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano and had all but forgotten about the disappointment of his schoolboy rugby career.

“I think once I finished school and started playing club footy, I began to enjoy it a lot more again because it felt like the pressure was off a little and that’s when I realised that it was the sport itself that I loved, not the recognition you get from making a team,” he said.

“I think when you’re playing for the right reasons and you’re enjoying yourself, you end up playing your best rugby and that’s certainly what happened for me after I left school.

“I can’t really put my finger on when or why I started playing better rugby. School finished and I started to enjoy it again. I probably did grow quite a bit without realising and all of a sudden I was probably a fair bit more athletic than I was at school and rugby became a whole lot easier.”

While he said he still looks back on his schoolboy rugby days fondly, Dowsett said he thought he and most young players like him put far too much pressure on themselves at a young age.

“The only advice I guess I can give is that it seems like the be all and end all of your rugby career at the time, making the first XV or making every rep side, but you quickly find out that it doesn’t matter and people really don’t care what sides you played in,” he said.

“Most players don’t play their best rugby until they are in there early twenties anyway and that was certainly the case for me.

“If you are frustrated about not making a side, it’s important to remember that there is a far bigger world to rugby than what you’re probably playing at the moment and there is plenty of time to be part of it.”

Dowsett admitted that he probably didn’t feel completely ready to play Super Rugby after just one full season of senior footy, but his competitive nature helped him thrive in the full time professional environment.

“It’s not just being able to devote your time to it, but also being able to hang around day in, day out with guys like Nic White and Matt Toomua who had been in professional programs for the better part of a decade,” he said.

“They have so much knowledge of the game and by just being around them, some of that rubs off on you and you begin to understand the game more.”

After two seasons in Canberra, Dowsett played a season of NRC with the NSW Country Eagles and had a stint in New Zealand with ITM Cup side Southland, before eventually signing a one-year deal with Worcester.

“It was certainly something that I thought I’d do eventually. I knew with my grandparent’s English heritage playing overseas was an option and the Brumbies obviously chose to go in the direction of Joe Powell and he’s playing some great rugby and is now in the Wallabies squad, so I guess that forced my hand a little but I think it has worked out really well.”

Before heading to the UK though, he returned home to Sydney to join Norths in their run towards their first Shute Shield premiership in 41 years.

“Winning that grand final is something I’ll never forget. It’s right up there with my first Super Rugby cap.

“Norths is my home and all the boys in that side were very close mates of mine and beating Sydney Uni in a grand final, it’s pretty much the pinnacle of club rugby in Australia, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Now into his second season with Worcester, Dowsett said he’s beginning to come to terms with the style of European rugby, even though he still doesn’t like the cold.

“It’s been a really different experience and it’s certainly had it’s ups and downs. I guess the style of rugby was probably the biggest shock at first. You go from playing for a team like the Brumbies who love keeping the ball in hand, to a team playing in the Premiership and dealing with the promotion/relegation aspect of rugby.

“With that, the teams down the bottom end of the ladder tend to play quite a safe style of rugby and that’s something I had to get used to.”

Dowsett is currently negotiating his next contract and while he said he’s still got unfinished business in the UK, he wouldn’t rule out a move home to Australia eventually.

“There will always be a big part of me that would love to come home and play at one of the Super Rugby clubs again but in saying that, with all the drama with the four Australian teams, I think my immediate future is somewhere overseas.”

In the mean time though, he’s happy fulfilling the dreams of the teenager that couldn’t crack the first XV and he said there are plenty of others playing club rugby that are good enough to do the same.

“You saw a guy like Dewet Roos get a chance at the Brumbies after playing well for Southern Districts for quite a while and he showed that he was more than capable at that level and I think there are plenty others out there like him.”