Big step up but AJ?s taking it in his stride
By JONATHAN COLE (Work experience ? Toormina High)
FORMER Dorrigo rugby union star AJ Gilbert is preparing for one of the biggest rugby matches of his life tonight.
Recently signed to the Queensland Reds by former Australian coach Eddie Jones, Gilbert is set to unleash his physical brand of football at the breakdowns when he comes off the bench in tonight's Australian Provincial Championship (APC) grand final against the all-conquering ACT Brumbies in Canberra.
Last week Queensland overcame the Brumbies in a thrilling 20-19 victory. Tonight Gilbert and his team-mates have been left with the difficult task of once again overcoming their long time nemesis.
"It was a good tough game last Saturday night," the 19 year old said.
"We've trained well and are confident we can pull off an upset against them and their home crowd."
Recently Gilbert has been training to play a number of positions against the Brumbies.
Normally he players in the jerseys numbered six through to eight but Jones has even experimented in the last couple of games by putting the usual openside flanker in at halfback against the Waratahs and the Brumbies.
"Yeah it wasn't a bad change up it was good fun getting behind the pack for a change instead of mixing it up with them," Gilbert said.
After shining in the successful Australian Under 19's World Cup tour as well as the national sevens team, Gilbert was signed to shore up the Reds ability to clean out the breakdowns.
He's the first to admit that the step up from playing first grade at Warringah to playing against the best in the country is a massive task.
"Actually, its a very big step," he said.
"Training is more demanding than even the toughest Sydney grade game. It's quicker because you're playing with and against the fastest blokes in rugby. It's also a lot more physical all the blokes are a lot bigger and stronger than Sydney.
"Not saying anything against the Sydney competition but Super 14 is just a higher standard."
The Dorrigo boy isn't hard to spot on the field with his long dreadlocks making him a dead ringer for Wallaby back-rower George Smith.
Recently Smith gave his famous locks a clip in the name of charity but Gilbert says he's still a long way from following suit.
"Ahh Mate, not for a while," he joked.
"George's hair was a lot longer than mine, so I don't think I will be cutting mine soon."
Gilbert said making the move from Sydney to Brisbane was getting easier with the passing of time.
"At the moment I'm living in one of the Reds' houses with a couple of other players," he said.
"Brisbane is a lot closer to home than Sydney and Brisbane is also a lot more laidback than Sydney so I've really enjoyed living up here. Leave is coming up soon so I'm going to look for a place of my own to live in."
Victory tonight will certainly make the move north worthwhile.