Former Edinburgh Rugby star Mike Pyke will be on the biggest sporting stage Down Under tomorrow when lining up for Sydney Swans against Hawthorn Hawks in front of 100,000 fans attending the annual Australian Rules grand final at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Millions will also tune in on television for the match which will complete Canadian Pyke’s transformation from rugby.
After being encouraged four years ago by a friend to leave French side Montauban, the team he joined from Edinburgh, Pyke has carved out a new career.
Speaking of his switch, Pyke said: “I had some good times at Edinburgh who gave me a great grounding in professional rugby. I still keep in touch with some of the Edinburgh players.
“But it got frustrating at Edinburgh partly through a bit of homesickness and also because, with the team owned by the Scottish Rugby Union, they were more inclined to push their nationals than players from abroad.”
Pyke, now 28, made 19 Celtic League appearances for Edinburgh between 2004 and 2007 as well as appearing in a 32-31 Heineken European Cup win over Llanelli and an away tie at London Wasps.
Looking ahead to his latest challenge, he said: “I was told when I arrived that the grand final has 100,000 people, or whatever the number is, but I don’t think you really appreciate it until you witness it.
“I was fortunate enough to be there live in 2009 and it really is like a coliseum atmosphere. You have this massive stadium and watching these guys go out and put their bodies on the line, it’s pretty cool.”
Swans coach Paul Roos is full of admiration for the way Pyke has adapted, telling the Adelaide Herald Sun: “It’s a massive, massive story . . . an unbelievable story.
“I don’t think there has been enough written about it and certainly I don’t think full credit has been given to Pykey for what he’s been able to achieve. It’s fantastic for him.
“I don’t think people saw him as a joke, that’s a bit harsh, but people saw the Swans trying to do something and believed that it was never going to work.
“His greatest credit is that he has not spoken of as a Canadian player, he is an AFL player in a grand final who absolutely fits in.”