Jake McIntyre’s departure sums up everything wrong with Australian Rugby recruitment

By Sam Ryan

23-year old Queensland Reds flyhalf Jake McIntyre will leave Australia in the coming weeks and join newly promoted French Top 14 club Agen for the upcoming season.

While there is no denying McIntyre has had a tough time at Ballymore of late, there’s a hell of a lot more to this story and the underlying issue is one that is holding Australian rugby back significantly.

Since the sport went professional, Australian rugby has been obsessed with the idea of the ‘schoolboy prodigy’.

A 17 or 18 year old star who plays Australian Schoolboys and is signed by a Super Rugby club either straight out of school, or a year or two later.

The problem is most 21-year-old kids aren’t ready to play Super Rugby and Jake McIntyre was no different.

Yes, he was incredibly talented and a star at Schoolboy, U20s and NRC level, but he wasn’t ready to play against Beauden Barratt and there is nothing wrong with that. Not many players are.

Instead of spending a few years in club rugby to develop his body and skillset, McIntyre was thrown in the deep end and expected to lead an understrength Reds team against some of the best provincial sides in the world.

He was destined to fail.

And now, right around the time when he should have been playing well enough in club land to warrant a Super Rugby start, he’s been released by the Reds to play in France and he may be lost to Australian rugby forever.

The same kid that was touted as Quade Cooper’s long term replacement has left Australian rugby before he was even given a chance to peak.

Why? Because the Reds have signed 19-year old Hamish Stewart to replace him.

And at the same time, there are a handful of brilliant 25 to 30-year old No.10s playing in Brisbane and Sydney waiting patiently by their phones to get a shot.

It’s a brutal cycle that we see repeated in Australian rugby far too often.

The best example in my eyes is Kurtley Beale, who is really only just now fulfilling his true potential at 28 after first showing up at Waratahs training as a 15-year old.

Imagine how much Australian rugby could have benefited if he was given an extra year or two to develop?

There are no easy answers at the moment, but clearly things need to change.

Is it time to revisit the idea of a National Academy for our young players? Where they spend parts of the year training professionally, but play club rugby each weekend.

It would certainly help our U20s side. They haven’t reached the semi finals of the World Championships in their last six attempts.

And it would create space in Super Rugby programs for more mature players who are actually ready to play Super Rugby.

I’m really not sure what the answer is but the current system clearly isn’t working and it’s time to acknowledge that.

Hopefully in a few years time, Jake McIntyre will return to Australian rugby and if he does, I hope he is a star. It’s not his fault that 21-year olds aren’t ready to play Super Rugby, very few of them are.