Success at junior level crucial for development of players: Gilmore

World Rugby U20s Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore says the effect of success at the junior level on the development of Australia's best young players can't be over-estimated.

The Junior Wallabies return to Australia this week after going within a point of snaring a maiden World Rugby U20 championship, falling 24-23 to France in Argentina on Sunday (AEST).

The majority will return to Super Rugby and state development programs taking the confidence gained from playing at the highest level with them.

Five players remain eligible for next year's campaign and most of those were involved in the Australian Schools and U18s successful tour of the UK last year.

"It's important that we win through these age groups," Gilmore said.

The Junior Wallabies take on Fiji on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

"Winning's a habit. You can rap close losses as much as you want but the experience of winning a game and feeling like you're winning as well is really important for our guys."

Even for capped Super Rugby players, that is crucial.

Reds utility Isaac Lucas played eight games for Queensland this season - every match he was eligible for outside of Junior Wallabies commitments and the most of any player in the Junior Wallabies squad.

Yet even he did not meet the threshold of minutes agreed on by Rugby Australia and Super Rugby clubs to prioritise club footy over the Junior Wallabies in the lead-up to the tournament.

"It looks good that they're playing in Super Rugby but if they're only playing a couple of minutes off the bench, they actually haven't played a lot of footy, so this is probably the first bit of footy they've played (fully) this year," Gilmore said of the experience gained at the world championships.

 

"Its 'great that they experience Super Rugby programs but at the end of the day, you develop by playing 80 minutes a week and those boys in the program this year have done that."

Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight, who made his Super Rugby debut earlier this season, winning three caps for the Reds, was a standout at the world championships, earning a nomination as the breakout player of the tournament.

The openside flanker, who commentators at one stage referred to as "the next David Pocock" said the championships had given him and other players an enormous confidence boost.

"For someone like myself, or Harry (Fellow flanker and Reds squad member Harry Wilson), we wanted to come here and prove to our Super Rugby teams that we wanted to play and we wanted to start and we were good footballers," McReight said.

"I think we've done that through our actions and I can't wait to greet our Super Rugby team back.

The Junior Wallabies celebrate winning through to the U20 world championship final. Photo: World Rugby

"Next year we're going to come in and we're going to be motivated to play and I think that's awesome.

"We're not just there to participate and then go to U20s, we know we're up to standard and hopefully next year we can move forward and keep developing as players and as people.

"I think that's the big takeaway."

McReight believes every member of the squad will have had a similar experience, including the returning Junior Wallabies.

Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight (right) and French captain Arthur Vincent pose ahead of the U20 world championship final in Argentina. Photo: World Rugby

"The lads that are coming back next year, they had a huge impact on this team this year and hopefully the coaching staff stays similar and they will have the same coaching environment around them and they'll be able to prosper," McReight said.

"But it's also the fact that they can learn and grow. The (bottom age) boys in the team played a huge role in the World Cup final, so they'll know how to win next year and hopefully they'll be able to carry it on next year and pass on the culture and the traditions that we had this year into the next group."