Rugby Union


Reds bypass ARU's national academy

The Queensland Reds will bypass the Australian Rugby Union's national academy feeder system next year by offering more "Beau Robinson fairytale" opportunities through their own back-up program.

The Reds will next week unveil their Reds College, containing 11 players they've invited to follow in the footsteps of Robinson, when they officially start pre-season training.

The cult-hero former NSW flanker left Sydney two years ago to be an unpaid Queensland squad-member and part-time Ipswich barman before starring in their 2011 Super Rugby title charge.

With the Reds calling on 36 players in both 2011 and 2012, coach Ewen McKenzie believes it's inevitable he'll need to look outside his contracted squad of 30 plus five rookies.

McKenzie borrowed heavily on the Reds Academy in 2010 and 2011 but it was dissolved with the establishment of the ARU's centralised national academy, set up as a development tool and young talent pool for all five Australian franchises to call on in times of trouble.

He now wants a strong core of more seasoned back-ups who are battle-hardened and better prepared to train with them so they can slot into his style of play at a moment's notice.


"There's no time to ease new players in - they have to be ready to play for us tomorrow," McKenzie said. "We need to drop them in there and expect them to be comfortable.

"You can't just chuck a 19-year-old forward into Super Rugby."

McKenzie likened the Reds' unique 2013 draw - with all but one of their fixtures played before June 3 - to the old "Super 12 sprint" and also said it was imperative they started strongly.

"If you want to have an influence on the competition you have to go hard from the beginning," he said.

McKenzie admitted the Reds learned from this season's injury crisis that conscripted reinforcements, from both the national academy and club ranks, were not up to speed with their structure due to lack of training exposure.

Among the college group are a host of top club players hoping to get their professional break.

"Beau Robinson did the same thing," McKenzie said.

Meantime, former Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels prop Jono Owen has gained the last contract in the Reds 30-man squad as a replacement for retired tight-head Guy Shepherdson.