Scott Fardy is the quiet man of an outstanding Wallabies backrow but four years ago his actions spoke volumes as he ignored an offer of safe passage when Japan was hit by the devastating tsunami.
The 31-year-old — who coach Michael Cheika joked had to grow a beard to get noticed at the World Cup — says the close ties he had established with local players in the Kamaishi Seawaves team persuaded him to remain and help.
The undersea quake on March 11, 2011 triggered a tsunami that killed around 19,000 people and a nuclear disaster.
More than 1200 died in Kamaishi and Fardy said that no one could prepare themselves for what he experienced that day.
“It was a bit of a life-changing kind of moment,” Fardy told AFP on Tuesday amid preparations for Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final with Scotland.
“I always said from the start I never suffered in any shape or form but I saw a lot of suffering from the people of my area and the town I was living in.”
He said he had not thought twice about staying when offered the chance to get out.
“At that time people from the Australian embassy turned up and said ‘Do you guys want to get out of here?'” said Fardy who with David Pocock and Michael Hooper has formed a pivotal trio in the Wallabies campaignfor a record third world title.
“I had forged a connection with the other players in the team.
“There were other foreigners too, a few Tongan boys and a Kiwi but we decided it was best to stay and try and do what we could to help out.
“We sent the women and children home.
“Hopefully we didn’t get too much in the way.”
Fardy, who despite his impressive presence is quietly-spoken, said he did not realise the seriousness of the disaster initially.
“I lived far enough up the valley and all we felt was the earthquake,” said the flanker.
“It wasn’t until the guys came back from the factory down on the shore and told me big waves were coming in that it began to register.
“That is when I pretended I was going out to go and get firewood but actually drove down and had a look at it.
“I saw cars floating down the street and the town on fire.
“I was aware of what was going on but even then I didn’t know how serious it was across the board, because we lost power and eveything else.
“It wasn’t till 24 hours later, the next morning when I woke up and army trucks were coming in non-stop that I realised how it was bigger than I first thought.”
Fardy, who had signed for the second division club in 2009 because he was frustrated at finding himself the 23rd man at three different Super Rugby franchises, says that his attitude to life has changed.
“I guess sub-consciously ones’ attitude to life changes,” said Fardy, who at the time lost several kilos due to food rationing.
“Life is too short when one sees people whose livelihoods were destroyed one day by a freak of nature.
“It hasn’t affected my professional life but maybe I’m a bit more frivolous with my money than I was before.
“It doesn’t really sit at the back of my head during games but I regularly spend time thinking about the people and what they went through.
“As I say I never really suffered but I saw others suffer and the kindness and generosity of the Japanese people will never be forgotten by me,” he added.
Fardy, who has taken great pleasure from Japan’s exploits at beating South Africa at the World Cup, said he hoped to return to Kamaishi one day.
“I kept in touch with people there and they have told me the town has turned around and taken big steps forward which is not a surprise given how amazing the Japanese people are.
“I was the only white 20-something male living in a small fishing village but it was a time when I really enjoyed myself.
“I would like to go back there eventually, not necessarily to live, but to see how it is doing because what happened there is something that changed me as a man.”