The Pro D2 season in France has just wrapped up with Bayonne earning back their spot in the French Top14 competition. And one player has had this rugby high point mark the end of his playing days.
John Ulugia has finally drawn the curtains on a fantastic career that has seen him ply his trade across the globe, meeting amazing people along the way and playing rugby at the highest level for many years. With his journey starting at Keys Road Moorabbin, hard work, perseverance and great family support saw him forge a career in the game that reads extremely well.
John’s early talent saw him picked for the Australian Schoolboys side. On the back of his performances he picked up his first professional contract with the ACT Brumbies and moved to Canberra in 2006. His club team in Canberra was the Vikings and he formed strong connections over the 3 seasons he was there. During his stint with the Brumbies John also played at the U21 Rugby World Cup for Australia and was picked in the Australia A squad to play in the Pacific Cup tournament.
However, the end of 2009 saw John without a Super Rugby contract and a young family to take care of. With the support of his wife Georgina, the family made the move to NSW and John set to work reestablishing himself as a top player with some very hard work both on and off the field. He played at both Southern Districts and then at Easts over two season before being recognised and signed by the Waratahs for the 2011 season. John’s work ethic kept him in the Waratahs squad until the end 2013 when he decided to take his rugby career in a different direction and the family packed up and headed for France.
Their new home was in the beautiful town of Bourg-en-Bresse, close to the Swiss border. John’s new team was Union Sportive (US) Bressane, who were playing in Division 2 of the French competition. Despite the obstacles of settling into a new culture with his young family and learning a new language to communicate well with team mates and coaches, John had a great season and attracted the attention of Top14 team ASM Clermont Auvergne. He signed with Clermont the next season and settled in for a very successful 6 years that saw the team challenging for League and European honours regularly.
Unfortunately, John’s last season in 2020 coincided with the worldwide lockdowns caused by the Covid epidemic and the competition was cut short. While he was planning on returning to Australia with his family John was approached by a few clubs keen to keep him in France and after weighing things up he decided to sign with Bayonne for a further 2 years. This move took the family to the French coast right on the Spanish border.
This year saw Bayonne play a great brand of rugby and they ended the season in second place on the ladder behind Stade Montois. Bayonne went into the final as the underdog having lost narrowly earlier in the season to Montois, but they carried their excellent form into the final match and another former junior Ram, Afa Amosa opened the scoring 9 minutes into the game. The final score was 49 to 20 and the celebrations in Bayonne were huge.
Then only a day after the official celebrations were done, the removalists arrived and the family’s life was packed up and the move back to Australia was underway. Not quite finished with rugby John has reconnected with the Vikings in Canberra and will be sharing his experience with the next crop of players coming through as a coach. We would like to welcome John and his family back home and look forward to following the next stage in John’s rugby life. We also look forward to having them drop back into Keys Rd sometime in the near future.