Teams from all over the country made their way to The Armidale School’s rugby fields to tackle the 14th annual junior carnival.
Forty-four teams from Western Australia, Queensland and NSW ducked, weaved, collided and showed plenty of skill across five divisions at the carnival on Saturday and Sunday.
There was smiles all round for the 950 junior players over the course of the two days, and, to top it all off, the participants had the chance to rub shoulders with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika when he dropped in.
Cheika arrived just in time to watch the two local sides – the Highland Goats and The Armidale School – clash on Sunday.
He said while he was impressed with the talent on the field, the stand out for him was the camaraderie off it.
“Straight away, from only being here an hour or so, you see such a diversity of teams from all over the state and out of the state even,” he said.
“I think one thing that is really quite remarkable straight away is the friendship and the spirit.
“I know it sounds a bit corny sometimes, but teams taking pictures together after the game, kids that might play each other, for the next five or six years at different schools, they are building friendships when they come on these trips.”
With the TAS carnival the largest under 12s tournament in the country, kids from both country and city areas had the chance to face-off.
Cheika said carnivals like the TAS one are essential in player development at all levels.
“Forget about elite development; development of the game at the grassroots level, the parents, all the people who run it and bring their kids,” he said.
“I have even heard some stories of some teams that couldn't come and their kids coming and playing for other teams so just in that alone you are getting kids to play who wouldn't be playing.
“It is engulfing the community around putting teams together where you can't get a team happening and I think that is great.
“As you get to the elite level I am sure there is private schools who might be looking at kids at a carnival like this and that is good for their education, creating opportunities and then it is great for the local community.”
In terms of advice for young players coming through the ranks, there is one key element Cheika believes is important in reaching their potential.
“I think one of the key things - and I have my own kids not far from this age, a little younger - they have to enjoy it,” he said.
“At the top level, the international level, if you are not enjoying the game you will never do your best and the idea is to do your best in everything you do.
“If you want to do your best and be your best then enjoyment is the key and then teamwork and all that type of stuff.
“The kids always love to talk about the players that are playing for the Wallabies but if I was to give advice that is the number one thing at this stage.”