How Australia's rising stars are staying on track despite rugby's shutdown

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

While Australia's Super Rugby and Test players await the green light to get back into face-to-face training, the mentors of the next generation are working to ensure rising stars don't lose out without rugby.

The Junior Wallabies have missed the chance to compete in the annual Oceania U20s, which was set to be played in recent weeks but had to be cancelled, and the World Rugby U20s Championship scheduled for June has already been cancelled.

Pending border restrictions, there are hopes that some trans-Tasman matches could be played by the end of the year and club rugby will become increasingly important in the 2020 schedule.

Queensland and NSW have already put plans in place to return to competition in July and Australia's Super Rugby competition is hoped to be able to kick off at the same time. 

Frameworks release both on Friday and earlier this month have set out the process to returning to community and professional sport and it is hoped that July will be the month when sport can fully return, albeit in front of empty venues.

Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore says they are working to keep their rising stars engaged. Photo: Getty ImagesJunior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore said he felt the plans in place would ensure that despite not being able to play their regular schedule, players wouldn't 

"Hopefully, a few of the boys can play some club footy if that gets the tick and then from a Junior Wallabies perspective we're hopeful that maybe we can get a one-off game later this year but worst case scenario if we don't play, we've got the squad to train-on squad around the 55-player mark and I don't think it will impede us too much.

"Club rugby will be so important from a talent ID as we look towards the start of next year, that form through club football will be valuable."

This year's national pathway process kicked off with a national gold camp in December on the Gold Coast that involved the nation's top U17 and U18 prospects for the second straight year.

With Rugby Australia taking over the administration of the Schools & U18s program in 2018, this was the second year that the program ran.

Gilmore said the camp proved to show a number of things.

"There's couple of reasons behind it want to get our best players across the country at that level competing against each other to assess how they're going on a national level but also fits into our pathway," Gilmore said.

"There was the guys from Australian schools & U18s who had played a fair chunk together and had knocked over New Zealand that came to the camp, so it's also about creating awareness and linking those boys into what's next."

Adrian Thompson, head of national XVs programs high performance, said that camp also served to help the promising teens have a taste 

"Massive, in reality the boys are getting offers from a variety of codes, so hopefully it's an opportunity for us to paint a professional picture of rugby opportunities," he said.

"The success we've had in the last 12 months with schools 18s and Junior wallabies, we need to continue to build on that no matter what happens for the rest of this year."

All of the players from that camp and in the nation's senior academies have been placed on individual development plans, an initiative that has been carried down from Wallabies level into the representative youth players.

Those plans give players a roadmap for their individual development over the coming seasons, something that has become increasingly important since face-to-face training ceased in march.

Australia's rejigged talent pathway has reaped some early rewards, including a 2019 Oceania U20s title. Photo: Sportography"Most of them went back and went into senior academy or academy programs, ran through until the end of march," Thompson said.

"Those boys will get individual development plan to focus on when they start school and club rugby.

"It's not a new thing but probably the first time we've pushed it down to this level and.

"That's so when they got back to state academies and we hope to still run a camp again this year, they have a clear idea of what they need to be working on in the next two to three seasons.

"It'll be similar with that group through to the 19s and 20s and those IDPs will involve a hook-up with myself, Gilly and the academy and and the player so we've got a lot of those to get through."

Gilmore said the silver lining for the youngsters was the ability to develop phyically and mentally, in an unprecedented situation.

"I think it helps build their resilience and mindset, training, to do it by yourself can get quite tough week after week and what it will give the boys once we're all through this is they'll gain a lot of perspective and not take things for granted and hopefully that resilience will help them in life in general but also in rugby."