Class of 1990
Ten Cap Wallabies Tighthead Prop
The 10 cap Wallabies tighthead prop has just returned from eight days of cycling 1,550km from Townsville to Brisbane to raise money for research into motor neurone disease.
‘Mentally, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not too proud to say I cried at the end. Sitting on a ‘brick’ on 25mm tyres supporting 115kg in lycra was never going to be pretty.’
But through a career absorbing the brutal force of packing into rugby scrums with a combined weight of up to 1,800kg, Fletcher is used to pain.
Fletcher started at John Paul College as a Year Eight student in 1986. He remembers ties and socks worn high but didn’t mind the ‘regimen’.
In rugby and JPC, he found his family; a place where his size was admired rather than ridiculed.
‘There was no denying that the little chubby, vertically challenged kid who couldn’t run out of sight on a dark night was always going to be a forward. Rugby is certainly a game for all shapes and body sizes.’
Starting out in the mighty 14Bs as a rugby recruit, he would go on to make the First XV as a Year Eleven student and was selected Captain of Rugby in his senior year in 1990.
Fletcher earned a Principal’s Recommendation to attend the University of New England and commenced a Bachelor of Arts majoring in politics and philosophy in 1991. That year he would make the Under 19 New England, Northern Province and New South Wales Country teams, ultimately winning a place in the New South Wales team to play against the New Zealand Under 19s. He went on to replicate that success the following year, earning national selection in the Australian Under 19 team and making the Australian Institute of Sport Under 21s in 1994.
During that time it was nothing for Fletcher to make the 11-hour round trip from Armidale to Sydney for 1½ hours of training. ‘That’s what I had to do.’
After three years in Sydney playing and working for North Sydney Rugby Union, Fletcher felt in limbo after being overlooked for the programme that transitioned players in to the Waratahs Super Rugby team. With the promise of ‘no money, just opportunity’, he decided to switch clubs and through Randwick Rugby Club, rediscovered his passion for rugby.
In 1997 he made his debut for the Waratahs, a baptism of fire against Auckland that would include the All Blacks front row of Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick and Craig Dowd. He would play a further seven games for the Waratahs before signing with the Reds in early 1999.
In 2000 he played every minute of every game for the Reds, surrounded by Wallabies fresh from their 1999 World Cup win. One of the best moments of his life was getting the call from then Wallabies coach, Rod Macqueen: ‘We’d like you up at Caloundra for a fitness test; you’ve been selected into the Wallabies squad.’
His debut against scrummage powerhouse Argentina, in what would be the last test match ever played at Ballymore, was surreal. He remembers vomiting with nerves and running out to a mosaic of images and visions of people in his life: his supporters, his doubters and even his mates from JPC days.
That period, and certainly 2000, represented a golden era for Australian rugby. The Wallabies would win eight of their 10 tests, holding the Bledisloe Cup and the maiden Tri Nations trophy. Stirling Mortlock and Fletcher would be the only two new faces in the Wallabies from the 1999 World Cup campaign.
February 19, 2004: a date forever etched in Fletcher’s mind. Scrummaging practice with the Reds in Christchurch resulted in Fletcher’s chin hitting his chest. It was an agonising two days later (including a flight back to Brisbane during which he blacked out in pain) that an MRI revealed the true and devastating extent of his injury. A bone dislocation in his neck had come impossibly close to severing his spinal cord.
Fletcher recalls the words of his surgeon, Richard Williams: ‘I’ll be really honest with you. I usually go from viewing scans like yours to greeting a quadriplegic. I would never buy a lotto ticket ever again.’
Fletcher’s injury drew the curtain on a career that ended all too prematurely. His official playing statistics show 10 caps for the Wallabies and 51 caps for his beloved Reds.
Today, Fletcher is still involved in rugby, coaching premier grade at Wests Rugby Club and the Brisbane State High First XV. He has been the ambassador for the Spinal Association of Queensland and is actively nurturing the next generation of Wallabies through his involvement in the C2K programme involving vintage Reds players.
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