HAMILTON breakaway Sami Poulsson is used to the quizzical looks.
He received the same response in New Zealand and Scotland.
Yes. He is from Sweden. Yes. They do play rugby there.
What’s more, the 24-year-old is pretty damn good.
Poulsson was among the Hawks’ best in a 20-18 victory over Wanderers at Passmore Oval. It was his fourth game in the top grade and continues a rugby schooling he hopes eventually leads to a professional contract.
“That’s the boyhood dream,” Paulsson said. “I have come here to challenge myself and develop my game.”
Before arriving in Newcastle, Poulsson played a season in Edinburgh at Stewart’s Melville Rugby club in the Scottish second division. He also spent two years in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand and made the region’s under-20 development squad.
“Everywhere I go, people ask where I am from,” he said. “My accent is not that strong. Some people find it a bit a weird when I say Sweden.”
Paulsson started playing rugby as a schoolboy in his home town, Norrkoping, which has a population of about 110,000 and is situated two hours south of Stockholm.
“My dad played rugby and I followed on from him,” Paulsson said. “I was a bigger kid and enjoyed the contact. I played ice hockey but once I started rugby that was it.”
According to Wikipedia, there are 3,467 registered rugby players in Sweden and the national team compete in the Nordic Cup.
“Rugby in Sweden is a bit like ice hockey here,” he said. “It is a minor sport but it is definitely on the way up. It is a growing sport.”
Paulsson has 20 caps for Sweden, the last of which was against Germany in September.
“I have been fortunate to captain the side a couple of times, which is a great honour,” he said. “We play in the second tier in Europe. They keep track of me, but being so far away, they don’t really have the money to fly me back and forth. I definitely keep in contact and if I go back I will play again.”
After graduating from high school, Paulsson headed to New Zealand, where he teamed up with 2016 grand-final winning Hamilton halfback Daiyu Ishimori. But it wasn’t until he was in Scotland that the opportunity to join Hamilton arose.
“He has been great for us,” Hamilton coach Scott Coleman said. “He is very strong, particularly through his core, and does a lot of tight work for us at the breakdown.”
Although having only been in Newcastle six weeks, Paulsson and wife, Emma, are keen to make it home.
“We want to set up a bit of a life here,” he said. “In terms of rugby, it has similarities to New Zealand but it has differences as well. It is a bit faster here.”