Rugby Union

Canberra's Joel Penders picked in Australian under-20s team after having appendix removed

His appendix split and started leaking into his body, he lost 10 kilograms in six days and missed a chance to impress national selectors, but Canberra rugby prop Joel Penders never gave up on his Australian under-20s dream.

Even when he was lying in pain in hospital for 12 hours before surgery or being told he couldn't run for the next couple of weeks, ''old school'' Penders had faint hopes he would get his representative chance. The 20-year-old Royals front-rower now faces a race against time to earn his Australian under-20s spot as one of six Canberra players in the 33-man squad.

Fighting fit: Canberra Royals player Joel Penders is ready for the selection camp in the Gold Coast for the Australian ...
Fighting fit: Canberra Royals player Joel Penders is ready for the selection camp in the Gold Coast for the Australian under- 20's squad after having an emergency appendectomy last month.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Just two weeks ago Penders was in agony. A burst appendix can lead to death and Penders' had split open as surgeons went in to stop the pain. It made his selection in the Australian under-20s team an even bigger shock, especially given he had surgery on the morning of what should have been his first game for the Combined States team.

Penders packed down against men almost twice his age in the Canberra first grade competition last year and has built a reputation as a hard-nosed competitor.

''It's all dependent on if I get an infection or seeing how fast I recover ... as soon as my appendix came out I thought it was all over but I still had some hope,'' Penders said. ''I started feeling sick on a Saturday, it got progressively worse and by the time I came into hospital I couldn't move. I was almost in tears and then they took it out on Wednesday morning.

''By the time they got my appendix out it had split. It was pretty nasty and the surgeons were saying it was a bad one. If they left it longer it wouldn't have been much good. As long as this injury sorts itself out ... that's my main concern.''

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The six-man Canberra contingent is one of the biggest representations in the Australian junior team. Penders is joined by Royals teammate Tom Staniforth, Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa, Andrew Robinson, Rowan Perry and Joseph Powell.

The team will play games against Fiji and Samoa on the Gold Coast this month before finalising preparations for the junior world championship in New Zealand in May and June.

Penders is racing to be fit so he can prove himself to coach Adrian Thompson. He hopes to be fit for the games and camp from April 22 to May 4.

His time in hospital has resulted in him dropping 10 kilograms to 119 kilograms. ''The most important thing is getting the fitness back and not losing the strength,'' Penders said.

Penders' Royals coach Russell Ingram said: ''He's certainly a talented footballer and you'd hope he gets opportunities moving forward. He's just one of those kids who gets on with it, he's old school. He doesn't complain, he just enjoys playing with his mates.''

Brumbies director of rugby, Laurie Fisher, hoped the new National Rugby Championship would give Canberra's Australian under-20s representatives a stepping stone to professional rugby. ''[Penders] played a season of first grade last year ... that's pretty outstanding for a kid in his first year out of school. Anyone who can do that has to have something about him,'' Fisher said.