BY JULIAN LINDON | THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
REPORT FROM THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
WALLABIES coach Eddie Jones has joined calls for the rebuilding of the hugely successful Australian Schoolboys program after complaints by organisers that Rugby Australia has turned its back on them.
The famed Australian Schoolboys program is one of the code’s great success stories, producing over 200 Wallabies, including some of the code’s legendary players, but the Australian School Rugby Union (ASRU) officials are unhappy.
They claim Rugby Australia is ignoring their long contribution of Schoolboys – and now Schoolgirls – by cutting funds and forcing players to choose Super Rugby academies over the traditional rite of passage to Australian honours.
Rugby Australia disputes this, saying their own state-based programs provide more funding and better pathways to talented school players, but ASRU says there’s room for both.
“We want to work together with Rugby Australia,” ASRU secretary Steve O’Donnell said. “Previously, the schools pathway was the pathway to the national national teams but at the moment there’s sort of two different pathways. We just think we can both work side by side.”
Rugby Australia used to provide $500,000 a year to the Australian Schoolboys but cut off funding a decade ago. ASRU has continued raising its own funds through its Foundation, locking in plans to host Tonga boys later this year and send a girl’s seven team overseas for the first time.
“It’s [ASRU] the breeding ground of some of Australia’s finest rugby players and Wallabies coach Eddie Jones says it must not be neglected if Australia is to ever return to its former glory days.”
But the ASRU says it has become increasingly frustrated by the number of players turning down the chance for selection because they have been pressured to prioritise the academies.
“I wouldn’t say it’s Rugby Australia, but essentially some of the kids we’d like to select, some of them were intimidated by certain coaches because they had games for them which they wanted to make sure they weren’t injured,” Foundation chair David Mortimer said
“But hopefully that’s all behind us now. I’d like to think that under the new (RA) regime that they’re aware of the importance of schoolboy rugby and give us a little bit of support.”
RA executive Ben Whitaker told The Saturday Telegraph RA made some strategic changes that provide the most talented players the “opportunity to be identified, selected and exposed to the highest-level rugby programs.”
“Whilst the current system working with talented school players, schools and associations has changed since 2018, Rugby AU and the State Unions/Super Rugby Clubs continue to work closely with the school rugby system to manage the requirements and expectations of the schools and their students,” Whitaker said.
“This includes effectively managing the training and playing schedules of the best young school talent across the country. It is not in the best interests of the students or schools for the best school players to have to commit to all representative pathways when there is adequate support and dedicated pathways to manage a student’s playing and representative ambitions as well as their welfare.”
Jones did not comment on the row but did say he was a strong supporter of Schoolboy rugby after he nearly made the 1977 squad – the most famous team of all, that included 10 future Wallabies and rugby league legend Wally Lewis and laid the foundations for the 1984 grand slam and 1991 and 199 World Cup champions.
“It’s massively important. It’s a chance for the best kids to play with the best kids. It gives them a chance to play other countries, and experience that feeling of playing together,” Jones said. “You look at every successful World Cup team in the world and generally it started at the 18s level. Then into the 20s and they come up into the senior level. So it’s massively important.
“I think you’ve always got to do more. I’m not privy to the extent of how much they’re doing now but you always want to do more and you always can do more. But you’ve got to find a way to do it. I think with the experience they can beat anyone in the world, and then continues through to what – the 91 World Cup, 84 grand slam. All of that success in that period was built on the success of the ’77 schoolboy side.”
SATURDAY, MARCH 25. 2023 dailytelegraph.com.au