Australian rugby has a decorated history of player development throughout its schoolboy and U20 levels, with numerous representatives having gone on to become Wallabies legends.
Phil Waugh (1997) and Kurtley Beale (2006) both captained the Australian schoolboy teams in their respective years, while Rod Kafer and Matt Burke also donned the green and gold at that level.
Western Force utility back Jack McGregor was following in the footsteps of these and other giants of the game when he was selected in both the New South Wales and Australian schoolboy sides in 2014 and 2015.
Having also put pen to paper with the Melbourne Rebels in 2016, before being selected in the Australians U20 squad a year later, everything was pointing towards immediate success in the sport.
But a horror run of injuries changed his career direction, with the exciting prospect leaving the Rebels without playing a Super Rugby match.
In 2018, McGregor took up an opportunity with the Force which helped breathe new life into a promising young career.
“Coming out of school, straight into an ACL reconstruction and then an ankle reconstruction, it wasn’t ideal, and it changed the way I saw the progression of my career going. It’s also made me quite mentally strong to deal with those injuries and to bounce back,” McGregor told RugbyPass.
“I’m very grateful for the Force because they gave me a second opportunity at playing professional rugby. Since coming here I’ve found a new love for the game, and thoroughly enjoy training and playing, and just the culture here is amazing and also the lifestyle.
“[It’s] funny how things worked now that the Force are back in Super Rugby and now I get that opportunity to fulfil that childhood dream that I chased when I was in Melbourne but now I get to do in Western Australia.”
After a couple of years playing with the Force, McGregor truly announced himself on the national stage with an impressive rookie Super Rugby campaign.
Some believe he should play at fullback while others think he could be a wing or midfielder, but where does Leon MacDonald see Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s positional future in rugby union?https://t.co/llaPwxW5Jl
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 6, 2021
He played in all eight of his sides matches in 2020, starting all but one.
The now 23-year-old proved to be an integral part of the Force, starring at mainly fullback but also starting at flyhalf in one match against the Queensland Reds on the Gold Coast.
For the Force, 2020 was a second chance to prove themselves at that level – and the same could be said about many of their players, McGregor included.
“I was happy with some games and obviously there [was] a lot to work on. For my first experience in Super Rugby there were a few positives but definitely things to work on which I’ve focused on this preseason.
“But I think it’s just getting games under your belt so now you’ve sort of ticked off that box of playing Super Rugby and fulfilling that dream, now it’s just about cementing your spot and not just being there to take part but to try and to have a good injection in a game.”
An influx of experienced test players has set McGregor a challenge to hold his place in the starting side for 2021, with the Force now having impressive depth across their squad.
Rob Kearney is arguably the most notable addition to the Force’s ranks for the 2021 season, with the 34-year-old having been capped 95 times for Ireland and touring with the British and Irish Lions twice.
“In every team you want competition for spots because it makes you train harder and work harder to get there.
“Personally, having a guy like Rob come in especially, he’s one of the most decorated players. It’s been brilliant for me. It’s an opportunity for me to learn and get better myself, and just pick his brain at certain things.
“Bringing in the international guys has obviously increased the standard of training and competition for spots so they’ve driven high standards and expected a lot from the other players which is good.”
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McGregor added that his “big goal” for the upcoming campaign is just to take each game as it comes, as he looks to cement his spot in the starting XV while doing Force fans proud.
“I just want to take it one step at a time, try and focus on cementing myself in the team and then playing really good rugby.
“[I] definitely just want to put my best foot forward and play the best I can for the Force and also for the sea of blue, the fans and the members.”
The Force have also bolstered their ranks with former Wallabies Tevita Kuridrani and Tom Robertson, as well as Pumas players Tomas Cubelli, Domingo Miotti, Santiago Medrano and Tomas Lezana, and Australian sevens representative Tim Anstee.
These players will line up alongside former All Blacks Jeremy Thrush and Richard Kahui, internationals from tier two nations such as Marcel Brache (USA) and Henry Taefu (Samoa), and returning former Wallabies in Kyle Godwin and Greg Holmes.
It’s no surprise, then, that McGregor is excited about the upcoming season, with the Force having made “some big improvements” throughout the preseason while building on their depth.
It would seem that on paper, the Force’s hopes of recording that elusive first win back in Super Rugby appears fairly strong.
“Coming into this season we don’t just want to win one game, we want to win them all.”
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