5 November 2023

Coolac rugby player selected in national university squad

| Michael Murphy
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Clare Harpley playing for the University of New England.

Clare Harpley playing for the University of New England. Photo: Catherine Stephen Photography.

Coolac rugby player Clare Harpley has been recognised for her recent on-field performances for the University of New England (UNE) by being selected in Rugby Australia’s University Women’s 7s Rising Star Squad.

A strong display at the UniSport Australia Nationals on the Gold Coast in September brought Clare to the attention of the Rugby Australia selectors. The 22-year-old university student was thrilled to have earnt a place in the squad, which will see her play in Brisbane on the weekend of 11-12 November.

“I was extremely excited and over the moon when I got the news about being selected in the rising stars squad,” Harpley said.

“There have been 13 girls selected from different universities across Australia, and we fly to Brisbane on Tuesday, train Wednesday and Thursday, before a captain’s run on Friday prior to the games.”

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This most recent recognition adds to a long list of achievements for Clare in rugby, a sport she has had a passion for since she first stepped out for the Tumut Bullants in 2016.

Back then, the only avenue for girls in rugby was touch, but programs put in place by Rugby Australia, ACT Brumbies and other organisations, including Southern Inland Rugby Union (SIRU) has seen the women’s tackle game grow at a rapid rate.

The effort put into the women’s game by both professionals and volunteers, is something that is not lost on the popular sportswoman.

“I do love my rugby, and I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I have been given,” Harpley said.

Clare Harpley in action for the NSW Country Corellas at the Santos Rugby Festival.

Clare Harpley in action for the NSW Country Corellas at the Santos Rugby Festival. Photo: Catherine Stephen Photography.

Mixing her love of sport with school and work on the family property, Clare became a regular within the Southern Sports Academy and SIRU sides where she developed a lot of her natural talent.

From those early forays into the sport, Clare was encouraged by her father, Jon, to try out for the Brumbies under-18s side in 2018.

At the time, Clare was attending Wagga’s Mater Dei Catholic College, and after taking Dad’s advice, she made the squad playing an age up in 2018, before being selected again in 2019.

Described by her former coaches as talented and hardworking, Clare experienced another highlight in 2020 when she received a call-up to the ACT Brumbies Super W side to play in a trial against the Melbourne Rebels.

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Prior to her selection in the rising star squad this year, Clare was a part of the NSW Country Corellas team that played in the Santos Rugby Festival at Narrabri in February – a tournament that she described as being an amazing experience.

The praise for the Coolac local continues on and off the field, with her UNE peers proclaiming her unwavering dedication and passion for rugby.

Clare studies business and agriculture and has a strong connection to the land, which she hopes one day will see her continue working with her parents at their Coolac property.

“I have a strong passion for ag, and I want to work in the agricultural industry,” Harpley said.

“I will work elsewhere to gain further experience, but the long-term plan is to come home to the family farm.”

A growing profile in the sport of rugby sees Clare travelling many kilometres to improve her game.

Clare Harpley on the attack for St Alberts in the Armidale competition.

Clare Harpley on the attack for St Alberts in the Armidale competition. Photo: Catherine Stephen Photography.

Clare plays for St Alberts in Armidale, where she has won another premiership this season, but she displayed the dedication to develop her own game when she trialled for the Newcastle University side.

She did this in order to continue to play at a high level, and after making that squad she was thrilled to be playing alongside players who had represented Australia in the Rugby 7s at the Olympics.

In fact, it was the 2016 Rio Olympics that provided the inspiration for Clare, when the Australian women won the gold medal in the Rugby 7s.

“I’ve always loved rugby and it’s been a big part of my family growing up,” Harpley said.

“Seeing the Australian 7s girls winning the gold medal definitely inspired me that anything is possible, and footy for girls really boosted after that.”

In her third year of a four-year degree, Region asked the busy Riverina sportswoman what was next on the horizon.

“I played for Albies for my third year this year, and won the premiership again, which has been unreal,” Harpley said.

“I’d love to be given the opportunity to travel overseas for rugby and continue to play high-level rugby whether it be 15s or 7s.”

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