Benji Crossley | On Rugby, Law and Coming Home
Law and rugby are the twin themes of Benji Crossley’s career.
After graduating with a law degree, he side-stepped into a sports administrative role with Wellington Rugby Union. Now, with four Rugby World Cups and a stint with England Rugby in London under his belt, Benji has moved to Tauranga with his wife, Sarah, and their young daughter.
Despite the harrowing experience of having two winters in their homecoming year, they are now soaking up the sunny, beachside lifestyle and enjoying the opportunities that come with a growing city.
Benji is beginning his legal career as a Law Clerk at Sharp Tudhope Lawyers while he finishes the process of being admitted to the Bar. He’ll then officially join the ranks of the legal profession as a solicitor. He is also bringing his significant sporting management experience to the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union.
This is his story.
Where did you grow up?
I’m a very proud Rotorua boy and loved my childhood there. I also spent a lot of time in Waikato as I had extended family there. We enjoyed holidaying at the Mount as often as possible!
Can you tell us your career story?
I have quite a unique career story. I was a year and a half from finishing a Law and Political Science degree at Victoria University when a friend of a friend let me know about a job going at the Wellington Rugby Union. The role involved administering the judicial side of Club Rugby in Wellington. It required someone with a legal background who had knowledge of rugby and preferably knew a bit about rugby law. As a law student, who had been a rugby-mad kid and also a referee, I fit the bill and I jumped at the chance to work for a Rugby Union while I continued my studies.
Towards the end of my degree, my boss who was the Club Rugby Administrator decided it was time for him to go on his O.E. Rugby World Cup 2011 was just around the corner. Working in the sport seemed more appealing to me than a career in a law firm. So, I decided to apply for that role and got it. I graduated from university and then had a great two and a half years working with the rugby community and doing plenty of other things on the side. Being Captain Hurricane for a number of Hurricanes games was something I won’t forget. I also got to work on Rugby World Cup 2011 as well as three Wellington Sevens tournaments. It was an awesome experience.
What took you overseas?
In the middle of 2012, I headed to London with my partner Sarah. Like so many Kiwis, I wanted to see the world. After a month or two following the London Olympics around I was lucky enough to get a job working for England Rugby. The office was Twickenham Stadium and to say I fanboyed a little during my first interview would be a massive understatement! I became a Competition Executive which involved the management of a group of their competitions, amongst other strategic initiatives.
I was also involved in the Events Team at Twickenham, which meant helping to deliver test matches. I remember working an All Blacks test in 2013 where I found myself running back inside the tunnel to celebrate an All Blacks try in private. Celebrating publicly in my England branded kit wouldn’t have been great for my professional career! The event work ended up growing and I was lucky enough to be involved as a Match Manager for Rugby World Cup 2015.
What happened next?
Unfortunately, England Rugby ran into financial problems in 2018. I was one of around 65 staff that were made redundant. By this time, Sarah and I had married and had a baby. For the next eighteen months, I was able to play my most important role, being a stay-at-home Dad for my young daughter. That was incredibly rewarding.
During this time I decided that I would pursue the law career I had put on hold after university. Law was always something that interested me. How policy and politics get translated into action fascinates me.
What prompted the move home to New Zealand?
After we had our daughter, we knew we wanted her to grow up in New Zealand. It was just a matter of timing. We came home in 2018/2019 summer for a break with the intention of talking to some different potential employees. Sarah was lucky enough to be offered a job so we gave ourselves a week back in London to make the decision. We knew that the longer we stayed the harder it would be to come home so we decided to just take the plunge.
How did Tauranga end up on your radar?
I think it was always one of the preferred options. We knew we weren’t overly keen on the major centres. Tauranga provided that great balance of a growing city while at the same time not posing the challenges of Wellington and Auckland.
What did you think moving from London to Tauranga would mean for your career?
Because I was changing careers from sports to law, I really had no idea. But I knew that the city was growing quickly and that I would be likely to find good opportunities in law. That proved to be true.
I was lucky enough to be hired by Sharp Tudhope Lawyers as a Law Clerk in the Property Team. We began organizing interviews while I was in London. I was involved with the Rugby World Cup in Japan and they were accomodating in working around that.
What does your role as Property Law Clerk at Sharp Tudhope involve?
Initially, it’s about learning the ropes of what being a Property Lawyer involves. It’s so completely different from what I had been doing that I am very much starting fresh. It’s great working in such an awesome firm and learning from such talented and experienced lawyers. As a team, we provide a wide range of property services so I have been involved in everything from drafting lease documents to helping people buy their first homes to drafting wills.
I enjoy the variety. It’s also great to be part of such an important part of Tauranga’s future. We all know Tauranga needs more housing to meet its growing population, so if I can play even a tiny role in that I’ll be really pleased.
How do you see yourself combining your sporting and legal experience here in Tauranga?
I guess up until this point I’ve chosen between them because of the circumstances at the time. Now that I’m home and a bit more settled I’m certainly looking to integrate them as I develop professionally in Tauranga.
I’ve been a massive Steamers fan my whole life, so when I saw an opportunity to join the Senior Club Working Group for Bay of Plenty Rugby, I jumped at the chance. It’s been great sitting in meetings listening to topics where I feel like I can really contribute.
As the sport grows ever more professional and becomes a bigger and bigger industry in New Zealand, the body of law that protects it will only continue to grow. I’ve seen the advanced dynamics of a more mature professional sports industry so it will be fascinating seeing what direction that goes in New Zealand.
What do you love about working in Tauranga?
Tauranga provides a great mix of the relaxed provincial New Zealand lifestyle but with enough big stuff happening that there’s always a good buzz around. I know that everyone says it, but the whole area has changed so much since I started camping at Mount Maunganui 25 years ago. I love watching the city grow and evolve as the region continues to boom.
What do you do to have fun and relax here?
Heading down to the beach is a big one. I love walking around the Mount and going for bike rides. We’ve also made some great friends and re-established relationships with old ones. It’s great sitting in the sun chatting and watching the kids play.
We love the summer markets on Friday night as well as the Saturday morning ones. I thought I would miss the street food scene from London but Tauranga compares favorably. I’ve also begun to take my first tentative steps into gardening. I come from a family of gardeners so I felt like the pressure was on! It’s fair to say the results have been mixed in year one, but it’s been fun. I’m looking forward to pottering away over the winter in preparation for next summer.
What has surprised you about Tauranga?
The only negative surprise has been the traffic. Everyone told me it was pretty grim but I didn’t really believe them. I’m not sure I quite realized how quickly the area was growing and how well it was doing economically. That has been a pleasant surprise.
What advice would you give to other Kiwi expats thinking about moving to Tauranga?
Moving home is hard. Setting up a new life is difficult, but it is worth it. Try and plan it so you don’t go winter to winter. Sure, Tauranga winters are not as bad as London winters, but they’re no picnic!
Don’t lump all of ‘provincial New Zealand’ into one. Tauranga has a relaxed feel like you would expect to find in the provinces while at the same time having plenty of the attractions you would want in a big city. It really is a great mix.
What has moving to Tauranga meant:
For your career? A fresh and exciting new start.
For your wellbeing? It’s been amazing for me. A fresh start and an opportunity to reassess who I am as a professional, husband, and father.
For your relationships? We’re a closer and happier family because of what Tauranga has to offer. There are few things I’ve enjoyed more in life than watching my daughter run down to the waves to play in the ocean and watching her and my wife play in the waves. Those simple things mean so much.
Gets You Thinking Doesn’t It?
No one can tell you when you’re ready for a change of lifestyle…but when you are, we’d love to have you in Tauranga!
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