Liam Gill may not turn 21 until next June, but the flanker can already tick a few goals off his wish list with a Super Rugby title won with the Queensland Reds and now a Test debut for the Wallabies in The Rugby Championship.
Gill came off the bench for the last 25 minutes at Eden Park to become the 60th player to graduate from the IRB Junior World Championship to the Test stage this year alone, and while the result was a 22-0 loss to the All Blacks, he wouldn’t swap it for the world.
“It was all a bit of a blur,” admitted Gill this week. “It certainly didn’t feel like 25 minutes, it was such an intense and fast paced game that it went straight through. I absolutely loved it and I learned a lot from it. I would love to have more time and opportunities.
“Just the speed and intensity which the All Blacks played with – it was the fastest and most physical game I have ever been part of. The way they attacked the breakdown, the way they get front foot ball with which to attack, I learned a lot.
A special year
“On a personal note it was a huge achievement, a huge honour, but it could have been a better outcome on the night. It was a huge honour to be able to be classified as a Wallaby but to lose the Bledisloe Cup and watch the Kiwis retain that for another year was hard."
Gill was only named on the bench the day before the Eden Park showdown so had little time to think about what lay ahead as Australia fielded two 20-year-old openside flankers, Michael Hooper getting the nod to replace injured captain David Pocock in the starting line-up.
“You certainly don’t wish injury on anyone, but it is a factor in sport and while someone is disappointed another gets an opportunity. It was a huge opportunity for Michael to start and for myself to debut.
“It has certainly been a very special year for me. It has been a huge year on the rugby front, hopefully it keeps escalating and gets bigger and bigger. It is hard to believe, and only when I have the chance to sit back and think about what has happened will it start to sink in.”
Gill could be forgiven for pinching himself to check he hasn’t dreamt the last week as it was little more than two months ago he was captaining Australia’s Under 20s at the IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa.
A whole new level
That campaign didn’t go according to plan with Australia recording their worst ever finish of eighth after losses to Argentina, France (twice) and England, but it wasn’t Gill’s first taste of the key age-grade tournament.
Gill made his JWC debut three days before his 18th birthday in 2010, the tournament’s then youngest ever player starting four matches, including the 62-17 loss to New Zealand in the final in Argentina.
The flanker travelled to Italy for the 2011 tournament, but no sooner had he landed then he was on a plane back to Australia to rejoin the Queensland Reds as cover after injury had ruled out Beau Robinson.
“The Junior World Cup is a great tournament. I have been lucky enough to have three years as part of the set up and I have loved every tournament I have played in. To see some of the best players in the world and play against them has been huge.
“It helped my game and my understanding. It was a huge honour to captain the Under 20s and from a leadership point of view it was really valuable, the feelings you get from the other players. It certainly takes it to a whole new level.”
Age doesn't matter
The Queensland Reds star is his country’s 16th JWC graduate and follows in the footsteps of the likes of Pocock, new captain Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale, James Slipper and Rob Simmons who all trod that path into the Wallabies.
This shows that Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is not afraid to put his faith in youth.
“He (Robbie) does understand how big and important the Under 20 team and junior age grade rugby is to development,” explained Gill, who also captained Australian Schools and played Sevens for his country, winning a Commonwealth Games silver medal in 2010.
“I spoke to him this year in the mid-season break and he said he would love for me to go out and experience the Under 20s again and lead the side to a lot of good results. It was a bit tough and didn’t go as well as we would have liked, but it made me look at rugby and I learned a lot from it.
“It would certainly be a huge honour to get another cap for Australia and I just want to be part of the system and keep pushing my claim and doing my bit for my country.”