Kiwis beaten, Junior Wallabies focused on World Championship

Australia Under 20s celebrate their victory at the Oceania Under 20s Championship RA Media Unit

Israel Folau's Code of Conduct hearing, and its fallout, has consumed Australia.

But away from the marathon hearing, which has left the Wallabies star's future hanging by a thread, there was last weekend a flash of good news for Australian rugby up on the Gold Coast.

After four previous runner-up finishes, Australia at last won the Oceania Under 20s Championship by defeating New Zealand 24-0 in their final round-robin match. And they're just getting started.

"Whilst it was pleasing winning it, it doesn't mean anything if we go to the World Cup and drop the first game over there," Australia coach Jason Gilmore told ESPN. "So we go into a training camp next week in Sydney on the 18th and that will be the clear message coming through: Oceania is done and dusted now, we've got to make sure we're getting ready for that first game against Italy.

"Obviously it was a pleasing result to finish the week off, the boys had prepped really well across the two weeks that we were at the Gold Coast; I think I'd said previously in the media, back in January, we set ourselves three targets and winning Oceania was the first of them. So it was pleasing that the boys got good reward for their effort."

Before knocking off New Zealand in the tournament's finale, Australia were comfortable victors over Japan and Fiji. But it was the victory over the Junior All Blacks that really should have people taking notice given Australia had never before come within 15 points of their local rivals - the trans-Tasman nations played each other twice in 2016 with New Zealand claiming a 19-point aggregate victory - particularly as they held the Junior All Blacks scoreless.

The challenge now is to replicate the performance at the Junior World Championship, which begins in Argentina next month, a tournament where Australia has underperformed in recent years amid a general rise in standard across the 12 participating teams.

Australia last made the semifinals in 2011 and last year finished fifth, albeit after the type of chequered build-up Gilmore is confident won't be repeated in Argentina.

"I thought the boys performed pretty well last year, we couldn't really get any rhythm going because we lost three boys out of starting XV through injury before Round 1," Gilmore said. "And then we had the Reds boys become available in Round 3 against New Zealand; we're air-dropping them in late with no combination and no preparation but you're expected to perform against a Kiwi side who's obviously very strong.

"The campaign last year was probably inconsistent in terms of player availability in who we could get which really affected the first couple of games over there, so it was great that the boys finished the comp well. But it would have been nice to have started a lot better as well."

Some of the keys behind the Oceania success, and what Gilmore hopes has his squad in great shape for the World Championship, have been player continuity and a more formalised approach to managing the program across the year.

"Really good, really good," Gilmore said of the support from Rugby Australia. "I was previously attached to the Reds doing this job, which made it difficult getting around to the other states and forming relationships with clubs and the players.

"So the fact that the other part of my role is working with the national academies has just given me greater flexibility to get around the country with TID [talent identification] and player development and working with the other coaches; everyone's on the same page through the academies at the moment and we've got some great coaches working across the country with this group, and I think we're just starting to see the benefit of that at the moment."

Crucially, Rugby Australia has also been able to retain some of its best talent which, in previous years, may have been lost to rugby league.

The recently-established "Fighting Fund" is already proving its worth with Angus Bell and Will Harris, who are two key cogs in Gilmore's Under 20s squad, resisting the advances of NRL clubs to remain in rugby. A Rugby Australia spokesperson told ESPN the fund had already played a role in the retention of a number of other Junior Wallabies, too.

Still, Australia's Under 20s coach says it's about selling young footballers the whole package, not just inflated dollar signs.

"I think it's a couple of things. I think you've got to show them a pathway that excites them and that they can see that they can actually develop in as well," he said. "I think the money is great but ultimately the boys have got to enjoy their footy, so as long as they can see that there is a genuine pathway there, that's the big one.

"Obviously with our younger players, rugby league is always going to be there with money so the Fighting Fund certainly gives us that ability to be in the fight for these players and we've seen a couple of those boys now in the last 12 months who've stayed within the game which is great."

But the small slice of positivity amid the Folau saga will amount to nothing unless Australia's next crop of potential Super Rugby starts, and hopefully Wallabies, flop in Argentina. The build-up could not be going better, but the harsh reality of the tournament means one slip-up can ruin an entire campaign.

Not that Gilmore is hiding from the inflated expectation.

"We want to win it, we don't hide away from that fact. If you're going to a World Cup not with the expectation or the aim to win it, you're going there for the wrong reasons. It's not going to be easy and there's a lot of hard work, and a lot of luck that needs to go your way, but we're certainly going there to win it."

As to how many of his players could one day line up in a Rugby World Cup proper, Gilmore added: "It's an interesting question and I've been asked that earlier in the year, I don't think we've got as many of those big names coming back from Super Rugby that we've had in the past. But what I do think we've got is a far better prepared squad, we've got really good cohesion amongst the boys at the moment as a result, so we're quietly confident this group has the attitude and desire to win the World Cup which is great. And I think already you've seen guys put performances on the board through Oceania that certainly a lot of Super Rugby clubs would be interested in."