John Porch's journey from a tiny bush town to the world sevens stage

Mens - Hamilton
by Iain Payten

With a population that hovers around 200 souls, the small country town of Cumnock has done its share of heavy lifting for Australian rugby.

To date, the pinprick on a map between Orange and Wellington in NSW’s central west has produced three Wallabies: Jon White (1958-65), Ross Reynolds (84-87) and recently inducted Hall of Famer Tim Gavin (88-96).

Throw in David Lyons from nearby Molong and you can almost add Wallaby-farming to the region’s brief Wikipedia page.

The latest in the green-and-gold production line at Cumnock comes in the shape of Aussie men's sevens speedster John Porch.

John Porch touches down against Jamaica. Photo: WalmsleyOr so says the Central Western Daily newspaper, anyway.

In every proud article about the local-boy-done-good, “Cumnock-raised” is almost a third name for Porch.

The problem arises when the Northern Daily Leader in Tamworth does Porch stories and claims the same honour. 

"It’s always a fight between the Central West Daily and the Leader (in Tamworth) where I am from,” Porch laughs.

"It’s actually both. They’re both home.”

Porch, who has been a member of the Australian sevens team since 2016 and a go-to star of the side since last year, was born in Orange and spent the first five years of his life in nearby Cumnock.

With both his mum and dad’s families from the region, Porch grew up knowing everyone in town and always toting the footy he was given at age “two or three”.

Prior to the town’s population proving too small to field a team, which drove people to Yeoval to play footy, his father played for the Cumnock Stallions and inspired John to be out there too.

At age five, Porch moved to Tamworth with his mum; where he would later kick-start his rugby career at Farrer Memorial Agricultural School as a speedy outside back.

“I still get back to Cumnock whenever I can,” Porch says.

"All my grandparents and aunties and uncles and that are still around that area, in Orange and Mudgee. My old man lives in Yeoval.

"Whenever I can get back I go out there. I would still call it home, because that’s where I grew up for the first part of my life.

“There wouldn’t even be 200 people now. It’s probably smaller now. It’s very small. Everyone knows everyone. 

"I knew the Gavins, we grew up with some of his family out there. 

"I’d go back and see Dad and we did some horse riding with some of the Gavin girls."

As one of those annoyingly athletic kids who went to state titles for running, jumping and swimming, Porch was also a natural at rugby and he loved the game. Where other kids played league and union, the 13-man game held no interest for Porch.

"If my old man had it his way he’d have me playing league but I am rugby through and through, and from when I was young, the dream was to play for the Wallabies,” he said.

"As I got older, and found the game of sevens through school footy, that became a real passion of mine because I love the open spaces.

“At high school, they say you had to choose (between league or union), you can play only one or the other. I didn't care. I only wanted to play rugby.”

Porch played for the Australian Schoolboys in 2012 but, in what would become a theme, he earned his jersey the hard way.

After playing for Combined High Schools, Porch was selected for NSW Seconds, and then won a spot in the Australian Schools Barbarians squad. 

His form there saw him picked in the Australian Schools side proper, and he was on the wing - ahead of Reece Hodge and Andrew Kellaway - when the Aussie youngsters beat New Zealand Schools on home turf in Auckland.

Where other rising stars were thrust into first grade or Super Rugby after leaving school, or the NRL in Tepai Moeroa's case, Porch came to Sydney to pursue his rugby at Norths and spent two years in the Shoremen’s colts.

"I didn’t really care about not playing first grade, like a lot of the other boys from the schoolboys side were doing,” Porch said.

"I was happy playing colts and looking back I am glad I did, they were good years. I enjoyed my footy a lot.”

In 2015, Porch moved to grade and finally played firsts for Norths under Simon Cron.

Having routinely played invitational sevens tournaments for Norths, Porch’s speed and athleticism put him on the radar of the Aussie sevens scouts and after impressing for the Rays in the 2015 NRC, he was finally tapped up.

Then-interim Aussie head coach Tim Walsh took Porch to New Zealand for a friendly six-game series against the Kiwis, before new coach Andy Friend selected the 22-year-old for Australia’s development team to play at the Coral Coast invitational.

On the Sunday of the tournament, Porch took a phone call from Friend.

“He said: 'mate congrats, I have selected you to play in the World Series leg in Wellington next week',” Porch recalls.

"It was a huge spin-out but Andy was then impressed with how I did there and fortunately I got signed for a one-year deal.”

With the Central Western Daily and Northern Daily Leader celebrating every step, Porch was suddenly a professional rugby player.

He played in several World Series legs in 2016 but figured he was absolutely no chance to making the Olympic team.

"Honestly I was happy just being in the program and then to be selected in the 20-man squad for a camp in Darwin, I was really happy with that,” Porch says.

John Porch rocketed into Olympic selection. Photo: ARU Media"I was happy to be in the Rio squad. But then after the camp Andy called me over and told me I was going (to Rio) and I had to ask him if he was telling the truth, because I didn’t think that was possible.

“I'd figured 2016 would be me playing at Norths. Instead I went to an Olympic Games.”

But finishing eighth in Rio, after nerves and ill-timed lapses sank their medal chances, made the Olympics a bitter-sweet experience.

"It was incredible to experience what an Olympics was like. Getting an opportunity to walk around an opening ceremony and seeing the Usain Bolts of the world, that’s something you never forget,” Porch said.

"But it set a fire in my belly. As soon as we bowed out against South Africa, I vowed to go to another one. I know we can do better than that and it’s a big motivation for a lot of the boys.”

If Porch was a shock pick for Rio, he’d be a shock omission for Tokyo in 2020 based on the last two World Series seasons.

Other talent has emerged in the form of Maurice Longbottom and Ben O’Donnell, but Porch has arguably been the Australian Sevens team’s most consistently valuable asset.

Time and again Porch has been the Aussie team’s go-to guy, and with the confidence of a player who now knows he belongs at the top of the tree, the 24-year-old has answered the call with some sizzling tries.

Australia hope this is the start. Photo: Walmsley“Early on some injuries hampered my progress a bit but the last few years I have been fully fit and playing in every tournament, and it’s been good to just that consistency in my game. It takes away that mental pressure,” Porch said.

"I have been working on leadership stuff because I want to step into that role more and more, behind Lewi (Lewis Holland), Moose (Nick Malouf) and Jesse (Parahi). I am finding building up that leadership style helps on the field and off the field."

Porch was central to the Aussies winning a drought-breaking title in Sydney last year, and his “Superman” try against Fiji to almost win a second tournament in Singapore went justifiably viral.

If the Aussie men’s team are to put a disappointing Cape Town sevens behind them and defend their Sydney Sevens title in two weeks, one man will have to have his hands on the ball in the big moments.

Cumnock and Tamworth’s favourite son John Porch.

"I strive to be that person. I work on fitness so I can be a 14-minute player and be a person who we can go to at the end of the game, when we need to score,” Porch said.

"I want to be a guy younger blokes can look to in those moments,and also be a guy that the senior players can rely on, too.”