Junior Wallabies shape as genuine World Rugby U20 challengers: Larkham

World Rugby U20s Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Test legend Stephen Larkham says this year’s crop of Junior Wallabies haven't let a win over New Zealand go to their heads and shape as real challengers for the World Rugby U20s title.

Larkham has been spending time across all of Australia’s national programs since departing the Wallabies setup after three years as national attack coach.

While not keen to discuss his departure from the Wallabies setup, Larkham had plenty of optimism about his new position, which he began in February.

Larkham’s official title is national coach performance advisor but his day-to-day activity goes beyond just the coaches.

Most recently, Larkham spent time in camp with the Junior Wallabies before they departed for the World Rugby U20s Championships in Argentina, working closely with coaches and players in the lead-up to that tournament.

Junior Wallabies flyhalf Will Harrison was immensely grateful for Larkham's help in camp in recent months, as the World Cup-winning 10 helped him develop his game.

Larkham said he learned as much from the team as he might have been able to impart.

"It's been good to get across the different programs, working with the Wallaroos, the Sevens and the Junior Wallabies and they've all been very good environments," he said.

"The coaches have set up really good environments so far and I'm trying to add as much as i can to them but they're doing a good job on their own.

"Mentoring coaches and stuff like that, no. I haven't done a lot of that sort of stuff. I think it's just been, it's been just as good for me as hopefully it's been for them."

Larkham wouldn't put any ceiling on the team's potential before they left for South America.

“They can do anything really, they've just got to continue on the path they're on,” he said before the team left for Argentina.

“We've spoken a lot about not getting ahead of ourselves but certainly enjoying the little wins along the way and they're very level-headed, they've certainly enjoyed themselves and enjoy being around one another but they're also very conscious that it's going to be hard work and they're up for it.

“There's some very talented players there.

“Particularly, the way they're communicating with one another as leaders on the field but also giving one another direction, I'm very impressed with that.

“For such a young group, they're a long way ahead of a lot of teams with regards to communication.

“A lot of leaders in this team doing a fantastic job with the way they communicate and get the buy in from the rest of the group and there's just some super talented guys.

“You could say there's a super talented guy in every position.”

Being back immersed in a team, even for a short amount of time, was an experience Larkham relished.

"It's good connecting with the players," he said.

"I think that's what you miss when you're not in a team environment, you certainly miss that connection with the players.

"(Junior Wallabies assistant) Shannon Fraser's doing an amazing job.

"I really like the way he goes about his coaching and he's implemented a lot of good stuff here and there's little bits and pieces here and there that I try and pick up."

The Wallaroos will be his next focus, with the Test legend likely to spend more time with the women’s program ahead of their Tests against Japan and New Zealand in the next two months.

It’s a space he has had little to do with in the past but one that he is excited to embrace.

“My daughter's playing now so doing a bit with her team, certainly going and watching them play but then watched a fair bit of the Super W this year and again being involved with those coaches and that sort of thing,” he said.

“We've certainly got a lot of skill in Australia and I think compared to games over the last couple of years, there's a lot of talent and a lot of potential at the moment.

“I'm very interested to see how we can pull it together.”

It’s not clear exactly how long Larkham will remain in the role, with the coach already reportedly sounded about overseas opportunities.

“There's a real clear role for me within the teams at the moment to do as much as I can to lift their level of performance, both as coaches and players, so the longer I'm with the program the more i feel a part of it and this (Junior Wallabies) one's a very special environment.”

The Junior Wallabies take on Italy in the World Rugby U20s Championship on Tuesday June 4, kicking off at 11:30pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS More 507.