Being straight no longer a barrier in gay rugby

CENTRE STAGE: Bevan Morgan with ball.
CENTRE STAGE: Bevan Morgan with ball.

He doesn't straighten the line of attack because he's a prop, but Bevan Morgan still plays a significant role in New Zealand's only gay rugby team.

The Auckland student is one of only two players in the New Zealand Falcons team who does not identify as homosexual - a position that puts the 29-year-old in an interesting, though not unique, predicament at the Bingham Cup in Sydney this weekend.

Morgan was more concerned about the fact he hadn't played prop for a decade than competing in the seventh edition of the gay rugby World Cup - and those fears were realised when he was given a torrid time by the Manchester Village Spartans front row.

"I played tighthead for one scrum but it was a mess, then loosehead wasn't much better," said Morgan, who joined the Falcons after writing a story on the team for the University of Auckland student magazine Craccum.

When he returned from his OE in the UK, Morgan was interested in playing the national sport again though had reservations.

"As much as I love the game I've always felt there is a bit of a culture problem. It can be a bit a misogynistic and a little bit homophobic and I never really fitted in with that," he said.

"I'd heard of gay rugby teams overseas and I was wondering if we had one in New Zealand."

The Falcons were on Google and once he discovered they were short of players he came out of semi-retirement.

Morgan, who played lock in his prime, had no reservations about joining a gay team where first five-eighth Junior Iopu is the only other straight player.

"Not even slightly," he said, when asked if there were awkward moments on and off the field.

"The team is incredibly welcoming. It's not just a gay team, it's a team that accepts anyone. It doesn't matter what your sexual orientation is, what your race is.

"I'm sure of women were allowed to play there wouldn't be a gender issue either. They took me in straight away. I felt really at home.

"There's a very positive atmosphere. Guys are really keen to learn. There's a few of us that have played a bit of rugby before and the less experienced guys had such a great attitude.

"I've played with teams before where they're struggling and you just can't get guys to practice. They're consistently keen and consistently improving."

Despite limited preparation the Falcons finished third in their pool with a 22-0 win over the Spartans followed by a 11-8 loss to the San Francisco Fog after the bell, and a 24-14 defeat to the Brisbane Hustlers.

Morgan said there was no adverse reaction from family and friends once he decided to join the team, which was formed last year with the Bingham Cup in mind.

"You get the odd joking comment from mates but most of my friends didn't know there was such a thing. A lot of them had the same reservations as I do about rugby, particularly a lot of the girls.

"They don't like those sort of old, traditional notions of rugby - misogyny and things like that," he said.

Morgan laughed when asked if he was concerned about receiving some off-the-ball attention from opponents at the Eastern Suburbs RUFC grounds.

"Flattery's flattery. I'd just take that as a compliment and say 'thanks but no thanks'.

"I'm sure there's plenty of other guys, better looking, fitter guys that fit their orientation. I don't think it's too much of an issue."

There are 30 clubs competing in the Cup named after gay American forward Mark Bingham, who died onboard the hijacked United Flight 93 on September 11. Bingham and other passengers stormed the cockpit, taking it back from terrorists and forced it to crash on farmland.

Most clubs in the competition have straight players on their roster.

"He's fully for the cause and loves playing rugby," said captain Jeremy Brankin.

"The guys enjoy his company - he's been fully included in the team.

"It offers a nice balance as well," he said, underscoring the inclusive ethos of the team, and the tournament.