Debutant Wright backed to handle Bledisloe cauldron

International
by Emma Greenwood

The man who has watched Liam Wright's transformation from lanky teen to Wallaby-in-waiting has backed the debutant forward to perform in one of rugby's toughest arenas.

Wright was named on Thursday in the Wallabies side to take on the All Blacks at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday, a ground where Australia has not won since 1986.

With selectors deciding not to gamble on the fitness of flanker David Pocock, Wright was named on the bench and has been backed to shine if he becomes Wallaby no.928.

Jason Gilmore is now Junior Wallabies coach - the man who guided Australia to the World Rugby U20 final earlier this year.

Liam Wright is set to suit up against the Barbarians. But Gilmore was once coach at the Anglican Church Grammar School, where his "Churchie" team of 2014 produced a stallar crop of footballers including league converts Kalyn Ponga, Jayden Su'a and Brodie Croft, as well as Izzy Perese, who moved from the Reds to the Broncos late last year.

The captain of the Premiership team was Waratah Mack Mason, with Wright and Reds teammate Angus Scott-Young starring in the back row.

Having gone on to coach Wright in the Junior Wallabies, Queensland U20s and Queensland Country's NRC team, Gilmore is perfectly placed to know whether Wright will cope with the pressure of a Bledisloe Cup decider.

"He'll eat it up, he's that type of kid, he won't be overawed by it, he'll see it as an opportunity," Gilmore said.

"I'm sure he'll be nervous but he's always a kid that's taken things in his stride, so I'll back him definitely to play well."

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, himself a no.7, agreed.

"From being in that position, you bring a heap of energy and this is going to be a battle out there," Hooper said.

"And someone who can come on and add that energy, that youthful enthusiasm in there, he's fresh to this environment.

"So what that brings with it is going to be great on the field."

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika conceded Wright was probably not in his calculations early in the season.

"At the back half of the Super Rugby year he was getting away from the squad a little bit and we gave him some tips of what would be good to see," Cheika said.

"I know he hasn't played with us but he's just been competing so hard at training we thought it was just a good opportunity for him, well deserved and a good chance to get in the game."

Gilmore said Wright was a player who had worked for every jersey he had won in the game and backed him to keep learning.

"He never had the reputation that the other guys had but within the group we always knew how good he was," Gilmore said.

"Probably through junior footy, he was probably never the no.1 ranked openside in his age group but not by form, it was probably just based on reputation.

"Because of that, he always had to work really hard to get to where he wanted to be and I think that's a reflection of him being named on the bench now.

"He's just such a resilient kid that nothing was ever going to stop him."