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Central West set to go one better at Country Champs

By Vittorio Travan

The Baby Bulls will be looking for redemption against Hunter as Ann Ashwood Park gets set to play host to the finest young rugby union talent over the weekend.

Jason Blake talking ahead of The Baby Bulls first match. (Source: Justin Edwards and Vittorio Travan)

The NSW Rugby Union Under 15s and Under 16s Country Junior Championships will see all seven country zones converge in

Bathurst on the weekend, in what shapes to be a redemption story for the Central West sides. With the Under 16s Baby Bulls going down in the final last year, and the Under 15s losing their 2017 semi-final the squads are ready to assert their dominance.

With the zones split into two pools for the Saturday round – robin stage, finals are no certainties. But it’s the Baby Bulls confidence to showcase and assert their home ground advantage that has Jason Blake Central West coach and junior representative coordinator excited. “It’s simply just a great opportunity to showcase their magnificent talents and bring them together to showcase Central West rugby,” he said.

“It gives a chance for all the zones to come together to compete against each other and better themselves. It also gives players a chance to see how they will stand up against other players and teams,” Blake said.

The Championships double as a selection trial for the Under 15s and Under 16s Junior Cockatoos teams, which Blake says is simply another chance for his players to impress selectors. But with his focus on regaining the Country Championship, Blake says the new talent within the squad is a real benefit. Following gruelling trial selections, the new players have built around last year’s core group of players and created a real energy.

“I think the squad has excelled with their inclusion, the vibe is very healthy and the squad is really looking forward to the weekend,” Blake said.

With a focus for the Under 16s to go one step better, he said the talent within his squad is more than capable of delivering a Championship. Breakaway’s Leo Ferguson and Tom Francis, the side’s vice-captain, will serve as vital instruments to securing quick ball. Ferguson, who is fresh off selection in the Combined Catholic Colleges team, and Francis are guns at the breakdown which Blake hopes will deliver quick ball for their star studed backline.

The starting Baby Bulls backline features the likes of captain and fly-half Jayden Blake, the centre combination of Nic Tighe and Toby Denyer and speedster James Finch on the wing. Blake says his side will excel with quick ball in open spaces and are ready to dominate and show how they can stand up against the best players in the region.

Country Championships an opportunity for the game to grow

As Blake sung the praises of Bathurst Bulldogs providing top quality rugby facilities for the tournament, it is the chance to develop local competitions that also has him excited. The tournament exposes players and coaches to new skills and techniques which Blake says can help develop local rugby when the player

s return to their local clubs. “The tournament ultimately aims to help players and coaches improve, which will ultimately flow into club rugby.”

“It provides a chance for players to develop new skills and techniques and take them back to club rugby which helps advance the local competitions,” Blake said.

Matthew Tink talking ahead of the NSW Country Junior Championships (Source: Justin Edwards and Vittorio Travan)

Those sentiments were echoed by Chief Executive Officer of Central West Rugby, Matthew Tink who said it was about getting aspirational people into the right pathways. Mr. Tink said the representative squads are an opportunity to excel everyone involved with rugby. “It’s not just about the players, its about getting everyone involved by opening pathways to aspirational people,” he said.

With NSW Country Referees sending five of their development list referees from across country NSW along with referee coaches, the championships exposed all rugby participants to rugby pathway programs. Mr. Tink said with coaches, referees, players, managers and assistant coaches coming to upskill their craft, it all served as opportunity to develop everyone involved in rugby.

“They come together, they learn off each other. Hopefully the things they learn they can take back [to their clubs] which ultimately improves club rugby,” Mr. Tink said.

Ultimately though, it is a chance to showcase the best junior talent in regional rugby. With the added bonuses of higher representative honours, Mr. Tink added the championships will bond many of the players which will long out last their rugby careers. “Rugby always brings people together and I think exposing players to different environments is a really important thing.

“Players from other clubs come together and they become mates and those friendships often last a life time.”

Tournament also a talent identification avenue

With the chance to show off all the rugby opportunities that exist within the Central West, Mr. Tink says the tournament will be “a world class advertisement for rugby”. The benefits will also extend to talent identification with Matt Evrard, NSW Waratahs Pathways Development Officer attending the tournament.

“These two age groups [under 15s and under 16s] are the most important for Waratahs rugby going forward,” Matt Evrard said.

His presence at the tournament will help identify athletes for the Gen Blue elite junior pathways programs that acts as a stepping stone into the Waratahs pathway avenue. Mr. Evrard says that the tournament is simply a reflection of strong country rugby union. “All the zones are here with full squads and are all represented, with good quality coaches.”

“It’s a really important catchment for players and coaches’ a like, so to constantly be in conversation and talk footy all weekend, that is the best part of the championships.”

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Future sevens stars prove their worth in Orange

By Vittorio Travan

Sydney will play host to the future stars of New South Wales rugby with St Mary’s Public School Dubbo and The Assumption School Bathurst to represent the Central West region in the state finals of the Primary School Rugby 7s.

St Mary’s Dubbo and The Assumption School battled out an amazing final at Endevour Oval in Orange, with St Mary’s claiming a five tries to one victory to clinch the Peter Nugent Shield. The sides won through to the final after accounting for Catherine MaCauley and St Mary’s Orange respectively in the semi finals.

Some future stars enjoying their time during pool play on Endevour Oval .

The Western Region Primary School 7s, was the final stop of the Term 1 rugby 7s tournaments, with 70 primary schools from  Bathurst to Nyngan competing in rugby gala days right across the region for a chance to feature in the Orange tournament.

The Primary school gala days held throughout the term where a chance for central west students in years five and six to try their hand at the code and have some fun.

The Western Region Primary School 7s were the culmination for the final 12 schools to come together and play for the Peter Nugent Shield. NSW Rugby Development Officer Jarrod Simpson said the regional finals and the shield were put together in order to celebrate Peter Nugent who has contributed a lot of time and effort into Central West rugby  but also teaching and education in the region.

Mr. Simpson said the great atmosphere of the day and the sportsmanship displayed by the students were really exciting to see, and was a real celebration of what the Peter Nugent Shield aims to represent.

He said the Orange tournament and all the rugby gala days were simply a celebration of rugby.

“The tournaments were aimed to introduce rugby to kids at an early level and expose the sport to kids of all skill levels,” he said.

St Mary’s Dubbo and The Assumption School will now have the opportunity to play on Allianz Stadium as a curtain raiser to the May 19th game between the NSW Waratahs and the Otago Highlanders.

Both teams will now also look forward to later in the year, as the sides prepare to take part in the NSW Primary Schools 7s State Finals as a result of finishing top two in the region. The sides will now travel to Sydney to represent the region where they take on the best primary school 7s teams from across the state.