The first games of the inaugural national Australian Rugby Union Junior Gold Cup competition will take place this coming weekend. Locally the Illawarra based teams will kick off their tilt at the title when they play Sydney North Harbour at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Sunday, February 16 and two local players will be part of the Illawarra Under 17s squad. Sixteen-year-olds Angus Clark from Nowra High School and Jacob Barnes from Nowra Anglican College have been training hard as part of the squad since last October and are relishing the opportunity to be part of the new national competition.
The Junior Gold Cup is a new initiative of the Australian Rugby Union and includes two teams from the Illawarra. The national competition includes Under 15 and Under 17 teams from 24 regions Australia wide. The Junior Gold Cup is a national long term talent development and competition program which has evolved from the Junior Gold Program of the last two years. A key part of Australian Rugby’s “Pathway to Gold”, the program provides local Illawarra junior rugby players with an opportunity to compete in a national competition while at the same time being able to participate in their local club and school competitions.
The tournament runs for eight weeks, with the National Final being played at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane on April 5. The 24 regions have been divided into two conferences, with each conference divided into two pools of six. Illawarra are part of the Southern Conference along with Sydney North Harbour, Western NSW, Central Coast, Sydney West and Victoria. There will be five preliminary home and away matches, with pool winners playing off for the conference title and the winner progressing to the national final match.
Angus, a versatile forward, who plays for the Shoalhaven Rugby Club is part of the leadership group for the Under 17’s squad and was part of the Junior Gold Program last year. Jacob is an exciting backline player who previously played rugby league and was part of the NSW Country Schools Rugby Under 16’s side last season. Both are keen for the competition to kick off, after training twice a week in Wollongong since late last year, and the opportunity to be involved in a truly national competition, that gives them the opportunity to push for higher representative opportunities including the ARU’s National Gold Squad and in the longer term State and National U20 Teams and ultimately Australian Sevens, Super Rugby and the Wallabies.
Illawarra take on the strong Sydney North Harbour side first up at home in Wollongong, followed by an away game against the equally strong Sydney West side at Campbelltown and then a road trip to Orange to play Western NSW. The Illawarra teams then finish with home games against Victoria and Central Coast.
The Under 17s opening game against Sydney North Harbour kicks off at WIN Stadium, Wollongong at 3.15pm on Sunday, February 16. More information on the Junior Gold Cup, the Illawarra teams and their upcoming fixtures is available on the Illawarra Rugby website – www.idru.com.au