James Ramm in action for the Junior Wallabies against Tonga in the Oceania Under-20 Rugby Championships match at the Gold Coast's Bond University on May 1. Photo: Oceania Rugby/Sportography
James Ramm in action for the Junior Wallabies against Tonga in the Oceania Under-20 Rugby Championships match at the Gold Coast's Bond University on May 1. Photo: Oceania Rugby/Sportography

New pathway for best young rugby talent

IF you can't beat them, join them. Or at least mirror them.

That's the new strategy to ensure the best of Australia's young players are retained in rugby, win an under-20s World Cup and then take that attitude into senior Super Rugby ranks.

Who's them? New Zealand, naturally.

Ahead of a clash between the Junior Wallabies (Australian under-20s) and New Zealand under-20s on the Gold Coast on Saturday night, Rugby Australia announced changes this week to the country's junior structures - all but mirroring the way the Kiwis go about business with their post-school talent.

Like most levels, the Kiwis are dominant at that age group and have won six of the 10 under-20 world championships since 2008. Australia's best result is second, in 2011.

Since then the Aussies have failed to finish in the top three.

Last year Simon Cron's side fell by a point to England in the pool stages, contentiously. But the team had prepared for only a few weeks after the Super 20s program finished.

In previous years it was a similar lead-in too because of the timing of the under-20s championship.

The Super 20s competition has now been canned and, like the Kiwis, Australia will play an under-19s championship in September.

From that, a wide squad of talent will be picked to train for the under-20 world championship the following June.

Those players will train in state academies, play club rugby and have about 11 weeks' preparation together in a  series of camps and tournaments.

The under-19s championships, which will include teams from Western Australia, Victoria and the ACT, plus city and country teams from NSW and Queensland, and a Barbarians team, will also be a tool for Aussie rugby recruiters to keep the best schoolboys in the game rather than being lost to rugby league.

 

Matt McTaggert scores for the Junior Wallabies against Tonga on the Gold Coast.
Matt McTaggert scores for the Junior Wallabies against Tonga on the Gold Coast.

 

Along with restored RA high-performance funding for the age bracket (to help cash-strapped states stay in the fight), top teenage talent will be offered a representative program straight out of school that leads to the under-20s - and going by the stats - a Super Rugby future.

But playing for the Junior Wallabies isn't enough. Winning as one is required if Australia's best youngsters are going to mature into winning senior players too.

"Obviously the (under-20 world championships) results have frustrated everyone the last few years," said RA's head of pathways, Adrian Thompson.

"We want to do well in it but we also want to produce Super Rugby guys who are winning.

At the moment the conversion rate from 20s to Super Rugby is excellent, it's over 90 per cent. Super teams are very young, obviously, but we want to ensure that winning experience at the World Cup and have guys coming out of 20s with that mindset.

We've been very close a couple of times, losing to England by a point and New Zealand by a couple. It means you end up running fifth instead of winning the thing.

"Getting that success at 20s level and schoolboys level, it all contributes as you get older.

"I am pretty excited. The group that beat New Zealand at this tournament two years ago, I think you'll start to see some success as they go through."



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