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The Croatian Chasing His Rugby Dream

Filip Perica’s unique rugby union journey from the relatively non-rugby nation of Croatia to playing for France’s fastest-growing sports franchise is self-driven and full of endeavour.

The 24-year-old Croatian keeps it simple when it comes to his rugby life. Sure, he has put in countless hours of hard work, starting well behind the pack coming from a basic rugby system to play with Europe’ best, but he tries not to put any unnecessary pressure on his game.

When you ask the strengths and conditioning student how he cares for his body, sleep, food, and hydration are his three simplistic ingredients. Onfield, he opts to build his game as a powerful centre or explosive winger and cement his spot within the Sarlat lineup, while off-fields, he aims to work and study hard to set up life after rugby.

"Education mentality can help with sports preparation"

A self-driven rugby career from Croatia to England

Filip was first introduced to rugby union through his brother, who was encouraged to participate during his school years. As an energetic and athletic 7-year-old boy, Filip quickly joined his brother and the other local school kids on the rugby field to learn the game he now loves.

For the next ten years, Filip lived and breathed rugby in a football-loving country where even popular sports such as handball and basketball struggled to compete against the so-called ‘world game’. The standards and resources of Croatian rugby was a fair stretch from the academies and university structures that many professional rugby countries offer their youth; however, this did not deter Filip. The then 18-year-old ambitiously carried on learning his craft, believing he had what it takes to mix with the world’s best.

Filip soon realised that he himself would have to self-drive his career and that if he wanted to take his game to the next level, he would have to leave Croatia. He created a simple 3 minute Youtube video that displayed his undeniable talent and ability and unashamedly sent the footage to over 50 clubs in rugby nations, hoping to get the playing opportunity he long wished for.

He was soon London bound.

Filip’s transition from Croatia to UK life obviously had its challenges, yet, Filip thrived in the heavily rugby orientated surroundings. Slowly but surely, Filip climbed through the ranks to find himself being offered a contract with Plymouth Albion in England’s National League 1.

The importance of education and preparing for life after rugby

During his five years playing rugby in England, Filip managed to undertake a Masters of Sports Science. He has a strong opinion in preparing yourself for life after sport as he believes a sporting career is a ticking time bomb that will inevitably come to an end.

When asked about the importance of education, Filip refers to the alarming suicide and depression rates in top-level sporting athletes. He reminds us that only a tiny percentage of athletes have the stereotypical catered lifestyle, while the majority risk everything to follow their dreams.

When that journey comes to an end, massive psychological and financial problems can arise if life after sport plan hasn’t been planned for.

He adds that the education mentality can help with sports preparation, as it has significantly done for him. As education involves immense planning and preparation for significant occasions like theses, lectures, and exams, Filip believes it is important to put the energy into the right areas and learn how to deal with pressure.

Education preparation can transform into preparing oneself for training, game days and recovery. As all sports head more and more towards sports science, education can help athletes with the modern obsession for sports education and analysis.

The level headed Filip points out that life is longer than a sporting career, so being prepared for life is as, or if not more, important.

The passion for the game and his country

Filip is passionate about wearing the iconic red and white checkerboard jersey and hopes that Croatian rugby will continue to grow. The challenges are many when it comes to growing rugby in Croatia, especially considering the football stronghold in the country.

However, Filip believes with clever marketing and media, and by exposing the next generation to the sport, rugby has a place in Croatia. He thinks the game itself is suited to the country’s culture and the stereotypical Croatian build; however, he acknowledges there is a long way to go to compete with the same conditions as European rivals.

The majority of the Croatian national rugby team are amateurs, representing their country while working full time. Although most expenditures are covered, players are not paid and purely play for the love of the game and their country.

It’s fair to say if more Filip Perica’s can force their way into professional rugby and pave the way for the young Croatian kids, the game’s reputation will flourish. And we may soon see Croatia become the competitive rugby nation Perica dreams of.

Enjoy playing sport and appreciate the transitions

Filip believes a sporting career is like a visit to the casino. It’s everchanging with highs and lows, and everyone needs some luck along the way. He insists that it is vital to enjoy playing sport as it will not last forever.

Filip’s advice to the youth is to appreciate the transition, and he should know, having been through many himself.

Along the journey, Filip has flipped burgers at McDonald’s and collected glasses in bars to fund his dream of professional rugby. He has been willing to move countries and clubs to get the experience to develop his game.

In an early setback, Filip also overcame a broken ankle while playing Rugby 7’s, which led him to fail his physical exam for university admission, significantly affecting his life on and off the pitch.

In a rugby sense, his transition has been one of gradual growth. From school rugby to country representative, London 1 league to the National 1 league, the step by step transition has seen Filip earn his stripes, as they say.

Now to think a boy from a country with approximately 500 registered players is competing in France is an achievement worth acknowledging. It takes courage and determination to get to where he is today, two characteristics Filip has in abundance.

No wonder why he emphasises the importance of appreciating the transitions.

Finding a balance for a bright future on and off the field

Finding a balance is a constant battle for Filip, especially when you add in the travels that come with representing his country. But he knows that with the correct planning, everything is doable.

Although many around him, including his mother, thinks education should be his priority, Filip confesses that his passion for rugby always wins out if a decision needs to be made between work, studies and playing.

Filip signed a contract for Salrat in 2021 and moved to France during the Covid pandemic. Although his start to his French rugby career has not progressed as fluently as he would have liked due to the pandemic, he is happy at his new home. He is eager to build his reputation while also undertaking an off-field role as Director of International Sponsorship.

If that wasn’t enough, he is completing his Masters of Sports Science and undertaking a postgraduate in Science of Strength and Conditioning. It is fair to say Filip Perica is a busy man and his determination is something for all of us to aspire to.

And Filip’s story has only just begun.

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