Junior Wallabies' ruling on Lucas release a long-term play

World Rugby U20s Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Rugby Australia's decision not to bend the rules to allow Junior Wallabies star Isaac Lucas to turn out for the injury-hit Reds is a second-phase play designed to reap long-term benefits for the game.

Queensland had sought for Lucas to enter camp a day late to allow him to play against NSW on Saturday after regular fullback Hamish Stewart suffered a shoulder injury against the Rebels last week.

But the Junior Wallabies have stood firm on benchmarks agreed with all Super Rugby clubs last year to prioritise the U20w if their players had not met a threshhold of on-field minutes by the end of March.

The complicated formula, which includes overall minutes played, "units" of time on field and a player's world U20 championship history, is a version of one used in many systems, including England and New Zealand and was implemented to avoid a piecemeal approach to a tournament that is seen as a fundamental building block for Australia's best young players.

The Junior Wallabies head into camp at the weekend riding high after beating New Zealand to win the Oceania U20 championships on the Gold Coast earlier this month.

The Junior Wallabies have won a maiden Oceania U20 championship. Photo: Getty Images

But Australia has learnt the hard way that world championship success does not automatically follow.

Last year, several top players were unavailable for the start of the World Cup due to Super Rugby commitments, while in 2016 - the last year the Junior Wallabies beat New Zealand at the Oceania tournament - their world championship hopes were dashed after many of those players returned to their Super rugby clubs only to warm the bench before heading into the World Cup severely underdone.

Rugby Australia’s national talent manager Adrian Thompson said while there were previously rules in place, they had not been officially discussed or agreed to with Super Rugby teams, leading to the new system being put in place last year in consultation with the Super clubs.

"Seven or 10 years ago it wasn't a problem because there were only one or two U20 kids involved in Super Rugby," Thompson said.

"But in the last few years, that number has escalated significantly, to the point where we had four of our best players not start the (U20) World Cup last year.



"So we sat down after last year's World Cup, with the Super teams and said we needed to come up with a way that protects the integrity of the national team while at the same time, always ensuring that Super Rugby has priority, as a general principle."

Thompson said a lack of success at the junior level had a negative impact on the game.

"If you look at our successful teams of 10 or 15 years ago, those teams all had success through schoolboys or 21s, as it was in the day," he said.

"So development and leadership is important; a national identity, which they only really get chances to develop at U18 level and this U20 level outside of Wallabies; and getting to play different countries at different types of rugby.

"Otherwise, all we get to play is South African and New Zealand teams and this is a chance to play England, Scotland, Argentina - teams that are different and they have to play at senior Test footy."

The other factor is tasting success.

Adrian Thompson

"Success like we had (winning the Oceania title), you hope, starts to instil confidence and success moving forward, throughout the game," Thompson said.

The Junior Wallabies beat New Zealand at U20 level for the first time in three years, keeping them scoreless in a result that led to them replacing the Israel Folau saga as leading rugby news - if only for a brief time.

Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore says the Reds' approach to have young gun Isaac Lucas available for their derby against the Waratahs is understandable and Thompson too, sympathises with coach Brad Thorn.

"Obviously when Hamish Stewart got injured and the Reds made an approach for Isaac to be available, which anyone would do," Gilmore said.

"There's no dramas with that but the policy stands."

Isaac Lucas in action for the Reds against the Waratahs in his starting debut for Queensland. Photo: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley

Thompson said he too, would have asked the question as a head coach.

"Head coaches are always going to ask the question," Thompson said.

"But he was the first one to come to me on Monday to say: I get it, good luck over there, I hope you go really well'.

"On the outside it looks simple but why wouldn't we then release two to Melbourne and then what happens the following week (if they ask again) and all of a sudden, you get knocked out of the World Cup.

"So we made a rule, we stuck with it, that's it."