Junior Wallabies stars in line to face Pumas at Coogee Oval

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

He helped the Junior Wallabies to an historic final appearance in the World Rugby U20s Championships in June and now flyhalf Will Harrison looks set to take on the Pumas in an historic Coogee Oval clash.

Argentina will take on the famous Randwick club in Sydney on Saturday afternoon, a match that clashes with round two of the NRC, as part of the Pumas' World Cup preparation.

There are eight Randwick players across the two NSW NRC teams and almost all of them could be in the mix to feature in the match.

Sydney’s five Wicks - Mitch Short, Will Harrison, Ben Donaldson, Christian Poidevin and James Ramm - have all been released to play against Argentina.

The status of the Country Eagles players - Ned Hanigan, Dave Vea and Triston Reilly - is less clear but it is believed they are all interested in donning the bottle green.

Sydney coach Chris Whitaker said he didn’t hesitate to give his players the option of playing in the match.

Junior Wallabies flyhalf Will Harrison has paid tribute to Stephen Larkham. Photo: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley “Playing an international team, it’s a massive opportunity for the young guys,” he said.

“Just look at the 9s and 10s - Mitch Short, Will Harrison and Ben Donaldson -  it’s going to be a big step up. Playing Aussie 20s is a big step up and playing NRC is another good opportunity for them and this will be another good opportunity.

“It will give them a good mark on where they need to get to. 

“Argentina are one of the best teams in the world and it’s not going to be easy for them but it’ll be a really good learning curve for them.”

Harrison, a former Australian schools captain, was among Sydney’s best in their tight opening round loss to NSW Country and is rated among the best backs in the next generation.

While losing five of their regular players mightn’t be ideal, Whitaker said it also shaped as an opportunity for the next NRC options to step up as well.

The Pumas are set to face off against Randwick at Coogee Oval. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyJunior Wallabies scrumhalf Michael McDonald is set to link up with Sydney for their match against Brisbane City while flyhalf prospects Tane Edmed, son of league legend Steve, and Jack Walsh will come into the mix as well.

“Personally, I thought I couldn’t turn down that opportunity for the young guys (to play Argentina) but I left the option open so that if they wanted to play NRC they could," Whitaker said.

“On the flip side it gives an opportunity for other guys to play NRC - we’ve got Michael McDonald from the Aussie 20s coming over at halfback to have a run and on the back of Harrison and Donaldson, we’ll bring in two young guys to have an opportunity.

“We’re still picking a very strong team for the NRC, we’ve got guys stepping in who are more than qualified to play at that level.

“If we were super short we’d have to think a bit more about who we needed to keep but the squad’s been pretty full and guys are keen to have a go and there’s contests for spots across the board.”

As for the spectacle of the match, Whitaker knows as well as anyone what Coogee Oval will deliver for an occasion like this.

Michael McDonald has been named as scrumhalf and captain for the Junior Wallabies' clash against Fiji. Photo: Rugby AU Media/Stuart WalmsleyA long-time Randwick player himself, Whitaker was at the 1988 game when Randwick took on the All Blacks, a match that featured Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and England coach Eddie Jones.

“I was about 14 years old - I remember it was packed...it was massive, I remember looking up at the apartment blocks around and there were people on every balcony, it was a big occasion.”

Randwick coach Hadley Jackson is hoping to have as many Randwick players available to him as possible in what he says will be the “opportunity of a lifetime”.

The match proposal from Argentina came as somewhat of a surprise for the club but Jackson said they jumped at the suggestion.

“It’s a huge opportunity, something that’s come up quite quickly and unexpectedly but it’s a huge occasion for the club, very proud for the club, huge occasion for the boy,” he said.

“It’s something that’s probably never going to happen again for them so they’re extremely eager to be a part of it.”

Jackson said it would be especially significant for players like Harrison, Donaldson and Poidevin who have had a lifelong association with the club.

"I think especially Will Harrison and Ben Donaldson, they've grown up on Coogee Oval, they've been running around together since they were kids.

"Especially since we might not have them around Randwick for too long if they keep progressing in their careers, it's perfect timing for them."

Randwick take on Argentina on Saturday September 7, kicking off at 2:30pm AEST.