Junior Wallabies focusing on foundations

World Rugby U20s Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The next crop of Junior Wallabies are taking things slow, with the national program flipped on its head in 2018.

National skills coach Mick Byrne was in camp with a 53-man squad this week, in their first of four camps before the Oceania Championships, a week that Byrne stressed was about development, not simply selection battles.

Newly-installed Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore said the move to hold more camps at this time of year gave the squad more chance to focus on some building blocks of rugby before throwing players straight into a game plan.

“Definitely (gathering) earlier in the campaign, previously when you haven’t had as much, the focus was more on the rugby side of things.

“Having an extra couple  of camps, means we  build the boys up and have a look at skills and gradually build into the rugby component.”

With more camps at this time of year, rather than gathering for the first time in March, Gilmore is expecting more continuity, something that former coach Simon Cron lamented last year, with players coming in and out of the team.

“I think the main issue last year was the boys had their camps but unfortunately there were a number away with sevens and Super Rugby,” he said.

“I think with the actual format (this year) the  time’s not that different but access to the players is better.

For Cronny, the team that played New Zealand (in the Oceania Championships) was vastly in round one of the World Championships with the boys coming back in.

“I think we’ll have good continuity of our players on the field and we’re hoping that’ll be a big positive.”

The man tipped to usurp Quade Cooper, Hamish Stewart, is among those in the Canberra camp but is  looks set to be a player absent when the World Championships roll around,with Super Rugby duties.

Gilmore said he was confident there were enough back-up 10s to ensure Stewart was not a lone ranger.

Australian Schoolboys skipper Will Harrison is among the squad, along with Queensland’s Isaac Lucas and New South Wales’s Bayley Kuenzie, all of whom GIlmore is considering as playmakers.

Though Australia has struggled to make an impact at international U20s level since 2011, its graduates have cracked the big time, with players including Izack Rodda, Lukhan Tui, Ned Hanigan and Izaia Perese all in the Test frame after playing for Australia in recent seasons.

Australia will have a tricky path to try and crack the U20s world semi-finals for the first time since 2011, up against Wales, Japan and New Zealand in their pool, but will have the advantage of far greater continuity this time around.

“It’s a tough pool but I like that, I think that sets the expectation that it’s a tough pool, so we’re going to have play tough to actually get through it,” he said.

A slightly smaller squad will gather in January for the second of four camps, with another chance to hone in on specific skills.