Some of Australia's top former rugby players hope a new youth academy for rugby for both boys and girls will be a gamechanger for the running game.
After the success with the interest in the Rugby World Cup in Japan, organisers are hoping the unique New Zealand conceived academy model will help both players and officials move through to higher levels.
And bush country rugby players are high on the list for places at the academy, with former player and agribusiness director Tim Leahy from Bathurst pushing the academy idea for country players.
The academy will be based at Sydney Olympic Park and offer full-week immersion courses for the older players, and shorter stays for younger players. Coaches are also being offered places to learn under some of the greats of the game. There will also be full and part bursaries for country kids.
"Rugby is a very big part of community and towns in rural NSW and we hope this academy will have a good connection with the bush," Mr Leahy said.
"Rugby as a gene pool is getting smaller and smaller and many with rural backgrounds have the right knowledge to move into the higher echelons of the sport. We are offering the best opportunity to be coached to a higher level of expertise."
Mr Leahy said it was a chance for rugby to "give back" to the bush for the wealth of talent it had produced over a long time.
Offering places to both boys (11-18) and girls (16-18), the academy will offer 16-18-year-olds a full-week immersion with top coaches, including accommodation and food in the price. For 13-15 year-olds it will be a four-day course and for younger kids 11-12 there will be a one day course. It will also offer places for coaches of junior teams. The first course starts on January 18.
The International Rugby Academy of Australia (IRAA) was launched in Sydney last Friday and has the backing of Wallabies legends including Michael Lynagh (the new patron of IRAA), Matt Burke, David Campese, John Eales, George Gregan, Rod Kafer and Phil Kearns, and women's players Emily Chancellor and Georgia Page.
Michael Lynagh said at the launch: "I wanted to throw my support behind this initiative because it has been so easy recently, particularly here in Australia, to criticise," Lynagh said. "What's harder to do is do something about it. People want to see Australian rugby do well and with the help of Murray and David [Mortimer] and all his team, this is the start."
The academy is a duplicate of New Zealand's IRANZ, started by former All Blacks Sean Fitzpatrick and Murray Mexted in 2002, with 100 international graduates. A plethora of players and officials at the World Cup had been through Mexted's academy. Information is available on the International Rugby Academy website.
Tim Leahy had a long association with the Sydney University Football Club and one mate in a tribute said: "He began his career at the Sydney University Football Club in 2006 and has left behind him a legacy which will last a generation. A humble, country boy, he earned his nickname 'Mustard' through his enthusiasm, keenness to get involved and make a difference".
Mr Leahy is hoping this new academy will make the difference in a young player's life that will help rugby survive well into the future.