As good as the AIS, or better - that was a comment made by one of the Junior Wallabies squad to events coordinator Prue Button about their headquarters at the Longreach Pastoral College when they undertook a week-long training camp there last week.
The 31-member squad for the Australian under 21 rugby union team, plus nine staff, bunked down in the outback Queensland town in preparation for the Oceania competition, due to be held in early July.
The squad was made up of two players from the ACT Brumbies, 12 NSW Waratahs, seven Queensland Reds, five Melbourne Rebels and four from the Western Force, and according to Ms Button, they were very impressed with the sleeping quarters, oval, pool, dining and meeting facilities offered at the college.
"They said with a returfed oval, it would be a potential training venue for groups in the lead-up to the 2032 Olympics," she said.
The squad, a mixture of 18,19 and 20-year-olds, assembled in Brisbane and took a bus to Longreach where it worked on player combinations prior to its July games on the Sunshine Coast against Fiji, Argentina and New Zealand.
Although training camps have been held in regional centres before, none have been in such a remote location.
Junior Wallabies coach Nathan Grey said he had selected Longreach for two reasons; to make connections with rural Australia and it people, and because while conditions are tough, he said Longreach offered everything the team could need for success.
That was bolstered by an impromptu address on mental resilience by Ironman Triathlon world championship competitor Jody Browning, who lives and trains at Longreach.
"Her message was, no matter where you are, you can achieve if you put your mind to it, and the players were absolutely spellbound," Ms Button said.
While it had been a long time in the making - last year's plans were scuttled thanks to COVID - the mutual benefits of hosting a national team, giving them an opportunity to engage with the local community and giving Longreach an opportunity to showcase what it has to offer, were realised over and over.
The players spoke with around 200 students at four school visits, including to the School of Distance Education, and ran a community afternoon and mini touch competition.
"Barcaldine and Longreach high school students played six games of sevens, which most had never played before," Ms Button said. "The junior Wallabies started cheering them on and then forming honour guards - you could see it really meant a lot to the kids."
The players and staff were also billeted out to 13 different families for two nights at the end of their stay, in order to experience outback life firsthand.
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