'More advanced' retention tactics aimed at next rugby generation

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Rugby Australia is working harder than ever behind the scenes to ensure it gives the next generation of schoolboy talent the opportunity to follow a Wallabies dream, high performance boss Ben Whitaker says.

Rugby AU has in the past year worked on developing greater incentives including a 'fighting fund' to keep schoolboy talent in Australian rugby and put them on the path to the Wallabies.

“That's (moving overseas) happened, that's happened in the past but we're making sure that the players that we believe have an opportunity to develop here and progress have that opportunity to stay here,” Whitaker said.

“There's always going to be a choice factor but right now we're doing some things behind the scenes that we think are a little bit more advanced than what we've done in the past.”

Though the national body has never officially confirmed the establishment of its 'fighting fund', it has reportedly already been used to lock down Canberra schoolboy Apinesa Driti.

Kalyn Ponga revealed his desire to play for the All Blacks. Photo: Getty ImagesWhitaker said Driti wouldn’t be the only player the national body was working to keep in Australian rugby.

“There's quite a few examples like Driti that probably aren't as public and (that’s) not yet confirmed but there's a number of players in that age group that we're working with now,” he said.

Whitaker’s comments come after Newcastle Knights fullback Ponga revealed he harboured an ambition to play for the All Blacks if he ever returned to rugby.

Ponga spent part of his childhood in New Zealand and both of his parents are Kiwis but he played schoolboy rugby at Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School.

The 20-year-old has already declared his rugby league allegiance to play for Queensland and Australia.

That would have no impact on his eligibility for New Zealand if he were to switch codes.

Ponga is still contracted to the Knights until the end of 2021 but said pulling on the All Blacks jersey would be the ‘pinnacle’ for him in rugby.

“I’m not too sure what my future is going to hold and whether I’m going to stay in league or change codes, but if I was to go back to union, I would want to strive for the black jumper,” he said.

“I don’t know what Is going to happen at the end of that, but playing at the pinnacle is the goal.

“I’ve always wanted to be the best of somewhere thereabouts, so we will have to wait and see.”

Ponga’s revelation follows news that Southport School flyhalf Campbell Parata is moving back to Christchurch to take up a deal with the Crusaders.

Whitaker said it was no surprise that players like Parata and Ponga wanted to play for the team they supported as children.

“That challenge has been around for a while and the more successful and effective a team is the bigger the brand and everyone wants to be part of and they've certainly got that,” he said.

“We (also) need to recognise that a lot of those players - Campbell included and Kalyn - they're actually New Zealanders.

“They affiliate themselves with New Zealand, why wouldn't they?”