The 21-year-old tyro putting heat on Wallabies captain Michael Hooper welcomes 'new dawn for Australian rugby'
The 2019 Junior Wallabies captain quickly proved himself to be the Queensland Reds breakdown specialist, finishing the Super Rugby AU season with the most turnovers won of any player with 18. He also impressed with his tireless work rate in both attack and defence, which has the flanker among the most exciting prospects in Australian rugby.
Last month, Wallabies coach Dave Rennie selected a 44-man Wallabies squad with an “eye to the future”, with the 21-year-old named alongside 15 other uncapped players. Just two days after the Reds 28-23 loss to the Brumbies in the Super Rugby AU Final, McReight and the rest of the Wallabies squad gathered in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales.
McReight admitted that he was a bit anxious going into his first Wallabies camp, as he didn’t know what to expect. But looking back on his first week, the increased intensity at training stood out and impressed the up-and-comer.
“Pretty much our only big training session we had was the Friday morning before we left, and the first thing you definitely notice, I’ve been told this a lot, is sure skill might be a bit better but it’s how loud the sessions are.
“The communications were just so much different, everyone was talking because that intensity goes up and everyone was probably a bit anxious, sussing out the coaches and what they’re like.”
After leaving the Hunter Valley, the Wallabies crossed the Tasman and landed in Christchurch, where they continued their preparation for the first Bledisloe test with a three-day quarantine.
The two-time Australian Under 20s player of the year admitted that he “really enjoyed isolation” with the Super Rugby AU season only just having finished. Playing in arguably the most combative position on the field, he added that it was a good opportunity to unwind, while training when possible.
“We were pretty fortunate here, in the morning and afternoons we were split up into two groups and were able to have 30-minute walkthroughs. Obviously, we had no ball and everyone had to wear a face mask and be two metres apart, they were pretty strict on that.
“In the mornings, we’d have a 7 am mobility thing that we’d have to do. That was more about getting us up and getting us moving so our body clock can get used to that three-hour difference.”
McReight led the Junior Wallabies to a best-ever finish at the Junior World Championships in Argentina last year, losing to defending-champions France by one-point in the final. Earlier that year, his side won the Oceania under-20s Championship by beating the Baby Blacks 24-0 on the Gold Coast, with the captain crossing for a try in the Trans-Tasman contest.
Under new coach Dave Rennie, there’s plenty of expectation hanging over the Wallabies, with Australian rugby fans desperate to see the golden generation achieve their potential.
“It’s really good to have a lot of close mates here as well so it’s not like I’m coming in with all of these established players and having to learn, and not fit in. I’ve got really close mates coming through with me, I know how they play and what their potential is.
“We’ve got new coaches, 16 new players here that haven’t got a cap before, and plenty who have only had a few caps so everyone is so excited. All the old boys are really good for the group and what the coaches are bringing, this confidence and this professionalism that’s instilling confidence within us.
“It’s a new era with all the coaching staff there and the new CEO and Chairman of Australian rugby. It’s going to be a new dawn for Australian rugby.
“[But] We’ve got to start winning and we’ve got to start winning back the public.”
Just over a week ago, Rennie confirmed that Michael Hooper would retain the captaincy even though his form had come under scrutiny throughout the domestic season. McReight, as well as his Reds captain Liam Wright, both applied plenty of pressure on Hooper’s hold on the golden number seven jersey, but his reappointment has seemingly all but confirmed his spot in the side.
But with Hooper set to reach a significant milestone, McReight is eager to learn off the experience of the Wallabies captain.
“The big thing for me is that Hoops is there. He’s one test away from becoming the youngest 100th capper in international rugby ever.
“He’s really good to learn off, he always said that I can go to him whenever I needed, and I’ve spoken to him a few times and I’m sure that I will speak to him a few more times about his mental side of the game. For me, that’s pretty special to have.”
The Wallabies will play their first test match of the year in two weeks’ time when they face the All Blacks in Wellington.
While he admitted that it would be a special moment for himself should he get the nod, McReight took a mature approach in saying that a test debut isn’t necessarily all about the individual involved.
“Who knows what’s going to happen but I’d be honoured, it’s something that I’ve always wanted since I was little and I’d be a dream come true.
“You’re proud but you don’t really think about yourself, you think about who a part of the journey has been and helped you along the way; you family, your friends, all your rugby coaches and players who have helped you on this journey.
“If I get lucky enough to play for the Wallabies, that’s for them and not so much for me.”
The All Blacks will host two Bledisloe Cup matches on October 11th and 18th, before the Wallabies potentially attempt to win back the Cup for the first time since 2002 on home soil in November.
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