Junior Wallabies bounding into Super Rugby roles as generation next emerges

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

The Junior Wallabies alumni have wasted little time in taking their game to the next level, with almost half the squad graduating to the Super Rugby level this year before the coronavirus pandemic hit the pause button on the season.

Australia's success at the U20 and Schools and U18 level over the past year pointed to a new wave of players pushing into the senior ranks.

And while Junior Wallabies mentor Jason Gilmore implored fans and coaches to give the young players time to mature, many have needed little time to make their mark at the Super Rugby level.

Already, most members of the team that took the field in the World Rugby U20 final last year have made their mark in Super Rugby, with two players earning places in RUGBY.com.au's Australian Team of the Season earlier this week.

Reds no.8 Harry Wilson, who has taken the competition by storm since making his debut in round one, said he was not surprised at how many of his teammates were making their presence felt.

"I know from last year they're all extremely good players, so it doesn't surprise me but the jump in level, to see so many of those boys go well, it's been awesome to see and hopefully they can keep performing," Wilson said ahead of the competition going into hiatus.

"I know there's some other boys who haven't had a crack yet but when they get a crack they'll take it by storm and go really well."

Wilson is one of 13 members of last year's Junior Wallabies side to have played Super Rugby this year, with 11 of those having made their debuts in 2020.

Young gun Reesjan Pasitoa has also made his debut for the Brumbies at just 18, making the leap straight from renowned Queensland rugby nursery Nudgee College and the Australian Schools and U18s to the Super Rugby level.


Wilson said he was surprised he had adapted so well so soon.

"I just try as hard as I can at training and … when I get the opportunity I just try and take it with both hands and I've just been loving every moment of it really."

The Reds no.8 was voted by RUGBY.com.au readers as the Super Rugby player of the year so far and has been one of the Junior Wallabies success stories.

Another is Brumbies flyhalf Noah Lolesio, another member of the RUGBY.com.au team of the year, who Junior Wallabies teammate and Waratahs flyhalf Will Harrison recently praised.

"Noah's killing it, he's controlling the boys really well down there, playing lots of really positive rugby," Harrison said.

"And so are all the Junior Wallabies - Lachlan Longergan's got a few caps, here Angus Bell, Mark Nawaqanitawase- all the boys are going really good.

"Sitting back (a couple of weeks ago) and watching, I got to see Noah and (Lonergan) go to work against the Sunwolves in Wollongong and then watching over in New Zealand I got to see people like Harry Wilson, Fraser McReight, our captain, and Isaac Lucas doing some special things.

"We've got a lot of young talent coming through and hopefully we can get a few games together later on but it's good to see everyone's filling the shoes and doing the rugby really well."

 

While Gilmore had urged patience from fans excited to see the young guns progress, he was unsurprised at how quickly several players had made the transition to Super Rugby regulars.

"If you look at previous Junior Wallabies teams, the following year you get a flow-on into super Rugby," Gilmore said.

"And I feel last year was a special group, so you were always going to have a lot of boys make their debuts or continue on from last year, which was good.

"I think you see the quality of the boys like Angus Bell, Harry Wilson and Noah Lolesio are probably the standouts in terms of playing well and good, consistent Super footy, which for a young guy, takes a little bit of time but those three have done it right from the get-go which is really good."

Gilmore had urged patience with forwards - and front-rowers in particular - given they generally take longer to mature and graduate to the Super Rugby level.

But the ability of Bell, Brumbies reserve hooker Lachlan Lonergan and Reds reserve tighthead Josh Nasser to make their debuts had been outstanding.

"Those guys in particular as front-rowers, they're just really competitive guys," Gilmore said.

"Lachy (and Nasser) have had smaller minutes this year in Super Rugby and are just getting a taste for it, whereas Belly, for a 19-year-old starting in the front row and handling himself really effectively week-in, week-out, it just shows the quality of that guy.

"Certainly for a young guy in the front row, it's hard to dominate early but he's made a good start."

Gilmore had also urged patience from coaches looking to bring the young players through and praised the Super Rugby mentors who had placed their confidence in the youngsters and stuck with them regardless of some rough patches.

"It's been huge," Gilmore said of the confidence shown in the youngsters by coaches like the Waratahs' Rob Penney in his players such as flyhalf Will Harrison.

"It might have been easier with Will with the Tahs - they had a tough start to the season - to jump straight away and put Kurtley (Beale) at five-eighth just in the meantime but it's been really good that Rob's shown that confidence and faith in Will which then gives him confidence to know that the coaching staff believe in him and know what a talent he is.

"You've got to ride out those storms a little bit as well.

"And the same with Dan (McKellar) with Noah. He had a couple of really good games (early) and then I think it might have been his third game he was a bit inconsistent but he knows he's going to play at ten, week-in, week-out because he's got that confidence from the coaching staff.

"I think that's really important for those young guys to decrease stress and anxiety around performance which is so critical."

 

The flipside is the example of Reds playmaker Lucas - one of four members of last year's team, including captain McReight and Rebels Semisi Tupou and Esei Ha'angana to have played Super Rugby last year - who headed into the 2020 season with eight caps already under his belt and who started round one at flyhalf before being shuffled to the bench but still has the full backing of coach Brad Thorn.

"Thorny obviously rates him as a footballer and a young man coming through that they'll do the best by," Gilmore said.

"I think the tricky thing there is you've still got to build your game. You do need to play minutes as a five-eighth to build your skillset."

Tupou ruptured his ACL playing NRC in the off-season, while Ha'angana is also injured, with neither adding to their Super Rugby caps this season, while injuries have also prevented forwards Trevor Hosea (Rebels) and Michael Wood (Reds) from being available for selection.

Junior Wallabies in Super Rugby 2020

Waratahs

Angus Bell

Age: 19

Position: Loosehead prop

Played: 6 games

Breakdown: 4 starts/2 bench

 

Will Harrison

Age: 20

Position: Flyhalf

Played: 6 games

Breakdown: 6 starts

 

Mark Nawaqanitawase

Age: 19

Position: Wing/fullback

Played: 5 games

Breakdown: 4 starts/1 bench

 

Michael McDonald

Age: 20

Position: Scrumhalf

Played: 2 games

Breakdown: 2 bench

 

Pat Tafa

Age: 20

Position: Backrower

Played: 2 games 

Breakdown: 2 bench

 

Carlo Tizzano

Age: 20

Position: Openside flanker

Played: 1 game

Breakdown: 1 bench

 

Brumbies

Noah Lolesio

Age: 20

Position: Flyhalf

Played: 6 games

Breakdown: 6 starts

 

Lachlan Lonergan

Age: 20

Position: Hooker

Played: 3 games

Breakdown: 3 bench

 

Nick Frost

Age: 20

Position: Lock

Played: 2 games

Breakdown: 2 bench

 

Reds

Harry Wilson

Age: 20

Position: Backrower

Played: 7 games

Breakdown: 7 starts

 

Isaac Lucas

Age: 21

Position: Flyhalf

Played: 7 games

Breakdown: 2 starts/5 bench

 

Fraser McReight

Age: 21

Position: Openside flanker

Played: 4 games

Breakdown: 4 bench

 

Josh Nasser

Age: 20

Position: Tighthead prop

Played: 3 games

Breakdown: 3 bench

 

Schools and U18s

Brumbies

Reesjan Pasitoa

Age: 18

Position: Flyhalf/inside centre

Played: 2 games

Breakdown: 2 bench