Brumbies relaunch academy to bolster Super Rugby hopes

SportChristian Lealiifano and Wallabies kicking coach Damien Hill during the captains run training session at GIO Stadium.The Canberra Times30 May 2014Photo Jay CronanIt produced Wallabies Pat McCabe and Sam Carter, now the ACT Brumbies have relaunched their academy to help find the next batch of Super Rugby stars.

It’s already bearing fruit with Will Goddard opting to stay in Canberra despite interest from the Waikato Chiefs.

The Brumbies academy was in hiatus for about six years and the cancellation of the Super Rugby under-20s program earlier this year has left a hole in the pathway to the elite level.

It’s rebirth comes in the wake of the ACT schoolboys, including Goddard, ending a 29-year national title drought in July.

The Brumbies announced the initial 11 inductees on Wednesday, with the potential for one or two more to be added.

There’s no age limit, with the youngest 17 ranging up to the eldest of 23.

Brumbies pathways manager Damien Hill said it was designed to sit below their Super Rugby squad and develop the players of the future.

They’ll train three nights a week, with about half the group training full-time with the Brumbies senior squad until Christmas.

Hill said it had left a gap in the ACT rugby landscape.

“The academy exists primarily as part of the succession strategy for the playing squad,” he said.

“The program we’ve put together is specific for the ACT. We’ve got a few advantages in regards to our proximity to the [high-performance] group – it’s a smaller area to service so we can really do something special.

“It’s been missing here, with the under-20s program being changed to an under-19s program there’s now an age gap we need to fill.

“Pat McCabe, Tommy Cusack, Sam Carter, they all came through programs like this. It’s been proven in the past that it works.”

Academy coach Daniel Hooper said they’d not set an age limit because some players take extra time to develop.

It will initially be a training squad only, with those involved to play club rugby in Canberra before hopefully graduating to the Super Rugby ranks.

While the current squad was from Canberra, there was scope in the future they could also bring talent from interstate as well.

“We want to develop local players as much as possible, but there’ll still be some players that come from out of the region,” Hooper said.

“Maybe the academy provides a bit of a carrot to get those players down here.”

Goddard considered leaving ‘s shores to join two-time Super Rugby champions Chiefs.

But he’s opted to stay in Canberra, with the academy re-birth one of the reasons he stayed.

The flyhalf was part of the ACT schoolboys side that won the national title and was part of the A team as well – although many felt he should’ve played for .

“It’s quite a promising opportunity and one that’s very exciting, so I definitely can stay in Canberra now long term,” Goddard said.

“The Brumbies are a successful club … you look at the names of some of the people they’ve produced – Matt Guteau, Matt Toomua – some of the world’s best. Definitely look to follow in their footsteps.”

Scrumhalf Seamus Smith was also part of the ACT team and played for as well.

He grew up in Canberra and he felt the re-introduction of the academy provided a clear pathway for kids like him.

“There was a bit of doubt with the stopping of the under-20s, but now being included in this senior academy is looking promising for rugby in Canberra, not just for myself but for a lot of young, aspiring rugby talent,” Smith said.

Academy squad: Angus Allen (backrow), Will Goddard (flyhalf), Byron Hollingworth-Dessent (wing), Len Ikitau (centre), Harry Lloyd (prop), Noah Lolesio (centre), Langi Lolotonga (backrow), Lachlan Lonergan (hooker), Liam Rasch (lock/backrow), Tom Ross (prop), Seamus Smith (scrumhalf).

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