AJ on top of the world
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
RETURNING to his home town of Dorrigo only a few days after being a member of Australia's first ever World Cup victory in Under 19s rugby, AJ Gilbert still hasn't come down from the buzz of the young Wallabies' 17-13 victory over New Zealand in Saturday morning's final.
Gilbert is the first to admit that the experiences he had in Dubai will remain with him forever as the great memories continued to come every day on the Arabian peninsula.
"Dubai was the most emotional time of my life, it wasn't so much the national anthem but the jersey presentation, that's when it really sunk in that we were going to be playing in a World Cup final," he explained.
"Before every game we had a jersey presentation and the first game our assistant coach Mark Bell presented us the jerseys and obviously he played for the Wallabies, so he spoke about that. The first New Zealand game Michael O'Connor presented us the jerseys, he's a dual international and he told us what it felt like to wear the Australian jersey.
"In the last game we did something special and we presented the jerseys to each other so the tighthead prop would present the loosehead prop's jersey then he'd present it to the second-rower and then he'd give it to the flanker.
"So we got up and said a bit about what it meant to each of us to be playing in a World Cup final and then we told a bit of a story about who we were presenting the jersey to, that's when it really sunk in for me at the jersey presentation.
"It was unbelievable, I just couldn't keep the tears back."
Named on the bench for the team's first match of the tournament, Gilbert took his chance by the scruff of the neck when he was given an opportunity to impress.
By the time the pool games were over, Gilbert was named as the starting blindside flanker in both finals matches.
"I had my chance at openside flanker against Rumania and played really strongly there," the 18 year-old said.
"Then I obviously came off the bench against New Zealand in the pool game and they were really happy with me there and that's what gave me the shot against France in the semi-final and I played pretty strongly in that."
Gilbert is spending a short time catching up with family and friends while he recovers from the tough football played in the World Cup but when he returns to Sydney, he's got a hectic schedule ahead of him.
"I've got a week or so back home then head back down to Warringah playing club footy with them then I've got a few Waratah Academy games coming up and hopefully at the end of the year I'll be going away with the Australian Seven's team to London and Paris," he said.
"My manager Glen Ella is the coach of the sevens team and we had a chat before I left for Dubai.
"He said that if I was fit and playing well then he'd take me away to London and Paris because he's going to use it as a bit of a development tour and bring a lot of young faces over so I'd say a few of the boys from the 19s will be coming along."