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'I had no offer from any clubs, I was close to joining the army': Australia's rugby rejects set to shine for Japan

By AAP
(Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images for Sunwolves)

Unwanted in Australia and on the verge of giving rugby away three years ago, Ben Gunter is now poised to realise a child dream and take on the British and Irish Lions.

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Former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says Gunter and fellow former Brisbane schoolboy Jack Cornelsen are two that got away from Australian rugby after helping the pair gain selection in the Japan’s test squad.

Fresh off starring in Deans’ Panasonic Wild Knights’ Top League final triumph on Sunday, Gunter and Cornelsen are among 36 hopefuls in the Brave Blossoms squad preparing to tackle the Lions in two tests in Britain next month.

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Gunter said he and Cornelsen “both started laughing” when named by coach Jamie Joseph on Monday.

“We couldn’t believe that 10 years ago, when I’m a little kid, all I wanted to do was just watch them live,” Gunter said from Japan.

“So to be able to, potentially, be on the field or even go there and be part of the team that’s playing the Lions, I don’t think words can really describe how happy [I am] and what a feeling that is for a young player like me from a little town, from Gunnedah, to be in this position.

“A couple of years ago when I finished high school in Australia and I had no option, I had no offer from any clubs, I was close to joining the army.

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“Then obviously Robbie and Panasonic came knocking on the door and they gave me a chance. They believed in me.”

The flanker was enormous, Jerome Kaino-like, in Sunday’s 31-26 win over Suntory Sungoliath.

Deans says there’s “no doubt Benny would be the frame” for a Wallabies jersey if he was in Australia.

But just not if he’d have stayed in Australia instead of taking a punt in Japan.

“The door may not have opened for him to get the development that he’s had here,” Deans said.

“So he got access to something and he took advantage of it.

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“He chose a path that has provided that opportunity and I think you’ll see when he does pull on the Japanese jersey, hopefully against the Lions, you’ll come to see what we all have seen and understand.

“He’ll be more than competitive at that level.”

So, too, Cornelsen, the son of former test legend Greg who famously scored four tries for the Wallabies against the All Blacks at Eden Park in 1978.

“He’s an international ready to go,” Deans said.

“His development has been steady and obviously coming over here allowed him to do that at a rate that I don’t think there would have been the patience for him domestically [from Australia’s Super Rugby clubs] just in terms of his physique.

“But he’s grown into a player that’s equipped for that level now.

“He’s got some good genetics, obviously, some good DNA – son of Greg combined with a bit of Kiwi – it’s a good blend and he’ll turn a few heads.”

Incumbent Wallabies coach Dave Rennie fears many more Australian players will be lost to cashed-up Japanese sides.

But Gunter, 23, and Cornelsen, 26, are living proof it’s not just seasoned test stars in their career twilight like Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley following the yen.

Gunter believes Cornelsen, who stands almost two metres tall and can play five positions in the forward pack, will be a sensation for the Brave Blossoms.

“I’ve never played with someone who just works as much as he does. He’s just everywhere – attack, defence, set piece,” Gunter said.

“And the fact that he can play anywhere between four and eight, that’s a very unique skill set, and he’ll bring a lot of energy and just passion as well.

“I love playing with a guy like that because it obviously makes me want to play better and makes me want to work harder and just try to keep up with him.”

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finn 4 hours ago
Why the world needs a reverse Lions tour

I think there’s a lot of reasons this wouldn’t work, but if we’re just proposing fun things how about a “World Series” held the june/july following a world cup. The teams competing each four years would be: the current world champions The Pacific Islands The British & Irish Lions The World XV Barbarians FC to ensure all teams are fairly evenly matched, the current world champions would name their squad first; then The Pacific Islands would name next, and would be able to select any pacific qualified players not selected by the world champions, including players already “captured” by non-pacific nations who would otherwise have been eligible for selection (eg. Bundee Aki); the Lions would select next; and then The World XV and Barbarians FC would be left to fight over anyone not selected. Some people will point out that 5 teams is too many for a mid-year round robin, particularly as it would be nice to have a final as well; and they would be right! But because we’re just having fun here we’re going to innovate an entirely new format for rugby, where the round robin is played in one stadium over the course of one day, with each game lasting just 40 minutes with no half time or change of ends. The round robin decides the seedings for the knockouts, which are contested by all 5 teams in one stadium over the course of one day, according to the following schedule: Knockout Round 1: seed 5 v seed 4 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Quarter Final: winner of Round 1 v seed 3 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Semi Final: winner of Quarter Final v seed 2 (contested over 1 half of indetermined length, finishing when one team reaches 7 points) ~ 10 minute break ~ Final: winner of Semi Final v seed 1 (played as a standard 80 minute rugby match) for the round robin, teams would name a 15 man starting lineup and a 16 man bench. Substitutions during games can only be made for injuries, but any number of substitutions can be made between games. The same rules apply for the finals, except that we return to having a regular 8 man bench, and would allow substitutions as normal during the 80 minute final.

12 Go to comments
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Simon 7 hours ago
Is the Six Nations balance of power shifting?

There are a few issues with the article. Despite somehow getting to a RWC semi final, England are nowhere near Probable status and should be swapped with Scotland on current form. France’s failure at RWC 23 has massively hit their mindset. Psychologically, they need a reset of gigantic proportions otherwise they will revert to, Top 14 first, international rugby an afterthought again. Ireland are allowed to play the way they are by less than acceptable officiating. Make no bones about it, with Easterby coaching, Ireland cheat, they break the rules at almost every facet of the game and generally referees, influenced by the media that Ireland are somehow playing the best rugby in the world, allow them. Scrums - Porter never pushes straight and immediately turns in. The flankers lose their binds and almost latch on to the opposition props. Rucks - they always and I mean always clear out from the side and take players out beyond the ball, effectively taking them out of being ready for the next phase. Not once do green shirts enter rucks from the rear foot. Referees should be made to look at the video of the game against Wales and see that Irish backs and forwards happily enter rucks from the side to effect a clearout, thus giving them the sub 3 second ruck speed everybody dreams about. They also stand in offside positions at rucks to ‘block’ opposing players from making clear tackles allowing the ball carrier to break the gainline almost every time. They then turn and are always ahead of play and therefore enter subsequent rucks illegally. Mauls - there is always a blocker between the ball catcher and the opposition. It is subtle but it is there. Gatland still needs to break the shackles and allow his team a bit more freedom to play rugby. He no longer has a team of 16 stone plus players who batter the gainline. He has to adapt and be more thoughtful in attack. Scotland are playing well but they have the creaky defence that leaks tries.

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