The Australian Under 20 team flies out today and will head to Vannes, in Brittany, on the Atlantic coast of France.
But they’re not on a holiday in the medieval, walled town: the Under 20 teams from New Zealand, Ireland and Fiji will also be there because that’s where all the Pool B games of the 2013 IRB Junior World Championships will be played.
The young Aussies could manage only eighth place last year and are not favoured to get first place in 2013, but they will definitely be in the race.
It’s going to be a tough pool for the 28 players, and their success in the tournament may be defined in their opening round against Ireland on June 5th.
The Irish lads have had the benefit of playing in the 2013 Six Nations Under 20 tournament. Although they won only one of the five games and drew another, Aussie Head Coach, Adrian Thompson, had watched recordings of all their games and said that they looked well organised.
The Australian team was selected from an initial list of 50 players, who were trained and then competed against each other in three camps for spots in the squad. They also played against a PNG team at Bond University and won 72-12 They will have some opposed training against the Scotland squad when they arrive in France.
Thompson hinted that the ARU would look at having more robust pre-tournament competition for next year’s squad.
Asked if he was envious about the preparation process the Six Nations’ team had benefited from he said:
We’re pretty envious but at the end of the day, there’s nothing we can do about it; we’ve just got to be ready.
He was confident that the boys would perform well.
We’ve had a longer preparation than last year; they’ll have a better understanding. At least this year with the academies we’ve had boys training and playing games […] in the Pacific Rugby Cup. At least they have had a higher standard of footy to what they’ve had in the past.
There were players from outside the Academies selected also:
We keep a pretty close eye on who is in the [club] system at Under 20. We invited them to camps and they stood up, especially in positions where we were a bit short.
It’s another young team this year. Twelve of the 28 players are Under 19s and will be eligible to play in the 2014 tournament. Part of the problem is that there are several Australian Sevens players who are Under 20s eligible, but the Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament is also being held in June.
The programme will be rugged for the players: their three pool games are played in a span of eight days. According to Thompson:
We’ve picked good footy players, but also guys that can cope with the demands of the tournament. They have to be very thorough in their off-field preparation and pretty mentally tough.
Five Australian players to watch
Curtis Browning, a blindside flanker or no.8, was voted the 2012 Australian Under 20s Player Of The Year and returns in 2013 as captain.
As a 15 year-old in 2009 he played schools rugby for Queensland and Australia A. After leaving school as the 2011 Australian captain he was fast-tracked into the Reds’ system in 2012, and in March this year played for 30 minutes against the Bulls. He plays with violence and has a joy of contact, yet he has deft hands for a pass or taking a lineout or restart ball.
Phillip Kite, a tighthead prop, is another leader and is captain of the GPS 1st Grade team in Brisbane. At 128kgs he is the heaviest man in the squad and has been in destructive form for Jeeps this year and been particularly dangerous near an opponent’s goal line.
Allan Ala’alatoa is another tighthead prop; so I don’t know how how and Kite and he will get in the same run-on team. He was very comfortable anchoring the scrums in the Pacific Rugby Cup games for the Sydney National Academy team against Samoa A and Tonga A in March. As one of the touring squad’s off-field leadership group he also has leadership qualities.
Jake McIntyre is a flyhalf but is just as adept at playing fullback as both a custodian and a linker. He has an old head on young shoulders as anybody who saw the test between Oz Schools and NZ Schools last year will attest to.
Jack Dempsey is an impressive backrower who also played for Australian Schools in 2012, and may make his mark more next year than this. He will probably play as an openside flanker in this squad but watch him as a young hard head with a great aptitude and attitude for the game.
Australian Under 20s Squad
Props: Allan Alaalatoa, Oliver Hoskins, Phillip Kite, Pettowa Paraka.*
Hookers: Silatolu Latu, Maile Ngauamo, Andrew Ready.
Locks: Thomas Staniforth, Senio Toleafoa. Ofiu Manukeu-Archibald. *
Backrow: Curtis Browning (capt), Jack Dempsey, Mark Baldwin, Michael Wells, Patrick Sio.
Scrumhalves: Waldo Wessels, Ben Meehan, Angus Pulver, *
Flyhalves: Luke Burton, Jake McIntyre, Reece Hodge *
Centres: Henry Taefu, Lalakai Foketi *
Wingers: Harry Parker, Brad Lacey, Alex Northam.
Fullbacks: Jonah Placid, UJ Seuteni.
* Replaces player originally named.
Several of the players can switch positions.
Shadow players include Chris Feauai-Sautia, when released by the Reds, and Samu Kerevi, when visa issues are resolved.
Players injured since the original squad was announced: Siotome Kavapalu, Jock Merriman and Matt Phillip.
Head Coach: Adrian Thompson is currently forwards boss at the Brisbane National Academy. He has previously acted as Australia A coach, assistant coach of the Queensland Reds and as head coach of Kyuden Voltex in Japan.
Assistant Coach: Sean Hedger is the head of the Sydney National Academy and also has mentored at Kyuden Voltex, as well as being head coach at Kobe Steel.
Assistant Coach: John McKee is one of the most qualified coaches in Australia having mentored at clubs in England, Ireland and France. In Australia he took Eastwood to its first Shute Shield Grand Final victory, and his Central Coast Rays won the one and only Australian Rugby Championship in 2007. He also coached the Warringah Rats and was technical advisor for the Tonga national team.
Playing Schedule – Australia Pool B matches:
June 5th v. Ireland
June 9th v. New Zealand
June 13th v. Fiji
The tournament concludes on 23rd June.
Photos by Lee Grant