Gleeson rewarded after working for Waratahs Super start
Waratahs flanker Langi Gleeson is taking nothing for granted after he was given a gentle reminder that being a Wallaby doesn't guarantee a Super Rugby Pacific start.
Gleeson had a meteoric rise in 2022, playing his first Test match after just 154 minutes of game time in eight matches with NSW.
The 21-year-old played three Tests on the European spring tour - with Gleeson himself noting he'd come a long way since being in awe of playing at Leichhardt Oval last year in his Waratahs debut.
Gleeson will start at No.8 for the Waratahs in their Super Round clash in Melbourne, taking on Fijian Drua on Saturday night at AAMI Park.
But he had to earn the spot, after coming off the bench in their opening loss to the Brumbies last weekend, admitting the starting snub "lit a fire".
"I guess it did, obviously I wanted to start this year," he said.
"Being in the second team, I felt like it was the right thing because I wasn't really there yet but I'm working my way from there and luckily, they gave me a start.
"Being in the Wallabies doesn't mean anything, I just had to get my work-rate a bit higher coming in heavier than last season but I'm getting used to the weight now."
He said he'd learnt plenty at Test level from his veteran teammate Michael Hooper and also Wallabies stand-out back-rower, Brumbies big man Rob Valetini.
Gleeson said playing for Australia had given him a confidence boost, although he didn't feel he'd changed too much - apart from now weighing in at 110kg.
"It still hasn't clicked with me," Gleeson said.
"I feel like when I came in here for pre-season I still had to catch up with some of the boys because they're a bit fitter and faster than me.
"But I feel more comfortable on the field - training and playing at that level really puts into perspective how good you can be."
The Drua opened their season with a two-point win over Moana Pasifika, with Waratahs assistant Jason Gilmore well aware of the threats that they possess after coaching Australia A against Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup last year.
Gilmore said field position was particularly important given Fiji's ad-lib style.
"They love their offloads so how we can tackle and wrap that ball up is going to be important so they don't get those second-phase plays," Gilmore said.
"If we can keep it a more structured game than unstructured, it's not rocket science against Fiji but you need the maturity to keep to that game plan."
He felt the NSW team would be more settled after the big build-up to their Brumbies match last week.
"We were probably a bit anxious last week - there was a big build-up to coming back home for the first time in a while, playing the Brumbies which is almost like the Reds game in terms of tribalism.
"I just think we may have been cooked mentally going into it or thinking too much about it.
"We've got that game out of the way and definitely training harder but I think we're also more relaxed having that game done so we can settle into the season."