Super Rugby


Junior Wallabies grand final bound

Source: - Emma Greenwood 

The Junior Wallabies are into the final of the U20 world championships after winning their semi-final against Argentina 34-13 despite being a man down for the entire second half.

Queensland’s next generation of talent were influential in the match, with captain Fraser McReight (Brothers), prop Josh Nasser (UQ), lock Michael Wood (Brothers), number 8 Harry Wilson (Brothers) and fullback Isaac Lucas (Sunnybank) all influential throughout the match, while Wests hooker Joe Cotton made a cameo off the bench to help seal the game. 

Two yellow cards to scrumhalf Michael McDonald resulted in a red and saw Australia reduced to 14-men for the second half of the match, but an impressive defensive effort proved the difference as the Junior Wallabies built upon their 17-13 half-time lead to claim the 21-point win. 

It is only Australia's second visit to the world junior final and their first since 2010, a tournament also held in Argentina. They have never won the title.

They will take on France on Sunday morning (Australian time) after the defending champions - who finished second in their group to Argentina - beat South Africa 20-7 in the second semi-final.

McReight, who was outstanding in defence, effecting several turnovers in the second half, praised the courage of his team.

"We were on the ropes at the end of that first half being up by four points and giving away that red card," McReight said.

"I'm so proud of the boys. Playing with 14 men and not conceding a point is unreal.

"I didn't (have to) say anything really, I think all the boys knew (the effort required).

"Last week we played pretty much the whole match with 14 men, so we knew that if we stuck to our systems and played the way we wanted to, we could end up with some points and not concede, which is what we wanted."

McReight said the Junior Wallabies sealing their first U20 final berth in nine years showed the growth of Australian rugby.

"The last time we made the final was in Argentina and it's really positive, we're going to take the confidence from this win into the final and hopefully get the chocolates," he said.

The Junior Wallabies were without regular flyhalf Will Harrison, due to a head knock he suffered late in their final pool match against England, with Ben Donaldson wearing the no.10.

And he stood up brilliantly under pressure, playing a steady hand in the halves when McDonald was yellow carded early in the first half before combining seamlessly with Henry Robertson in the second term while amassing 19 points in an outstanding showing.

McDonald will pay a heavy price for his errors, his red card earning him an automatic one-game ban, meaning he will be forced to sit out the final, with Robertson likely to start at no.9 in the final.
Lightning had stopped play in Rosario earlier in the day, with kick-off in the semi-final delayed by more than half an hour, while heavy rain over the 24 hours prior to kick-off left the ground at the Racecourse Stadium in Rosario heavy underfoot.
The Australians adapted best to the conditions, although the greasy ball did not stop them from chancing their arm on occasion. 
The Argentinians have built their campaign on bruising defence and it was on show in the opening stages when they successfully repelled the Aussies deep in their own territory.
But the Australians still opened the scoring, with Donaldson converting a penalty in the 11th minute for a 3-0 lead, although he missed another shot just five minutes later.
The Junior Wallabies were left a man down in the 20th minute after scrumhalf Michael McDonald was handed a yellow card following a dangerous tackle on Argentinian forward Manuel Bernstein, who flipped spectacularly before landing on his back.

The officials took into account the fact that Bernstein had leapt into the tackle though, contributing to being upended as McDonald was attempting to make a low tackle, leaving the offence short of a red card. Joaquin de la Vega Mendia converted the penalty to get the teams back on level footing but it was the Aussies that hit back almost immediately, with flanker Harry Wilson scoring under the posts.

The Junior Wallabies' defence continued to hold firm while they were a man down, with de la Vega Mendia converting a second penalty just before McDonald retook the field.

McDonald dived over for the Junior Wallabies' second try late in the half, backing up well to take a pass from Noah Lolesio who had burst through the line to create the chance.

Donaldson's conversion gave Australia a 17-6 lead they seemed set to take into halftime before a two minutes of madness changed the match.

A McDonald box kick into touch seconds from the hooter gave the Argentinians a lineout and last-ditch chance to score before the break and when the scrumhalf made a desperate tackle attempting to prevent the Pumitas from scoring in the corner, he caught the player high and conceded a penalty try and earnt a second yellow card, banishing him from the rest of the match.

Coach Jason Gilmore brought reserve half Henry Robertson on for the second half, deciding to play without a winger, Sione Tui making way to leave the Junior Wallabies with 14 men.

It did not stop them from playing attacking football though.

McReight spurned a shot at goal from a penalty early in the second half, opting instead for a lineout deep in Argentinian territory, with hooker Lachlan Lonergan driving over from the resulting maul to give Australia a valuable 24-13 lead with the conversion.

A desperate tackle from fullback Isaac Lucas forced the Pumitas into touch just before they grounded the ball for what had initially looked a try.

And it was Australia who again made the most of their chances, with Donaldson kicking ahead from deep inside his own half and winning the race to the ball to score and put the Wallabies up by 15 points with 25 minutes remaining.

The Junior Wallabies defence was outstanding in the final stages, with backrowers McReight, Wilson and Will Harris pilfering the ball on several occasions and the backs chiming in on several occasions to hold up ball runners and force turnovers.
Donaldson iced the result with a conversion from another turnover and penalty late in the match, taking his personal tally to 19 points.

Junior Wallabies 34

Tries: Wilson, McDonald, Lonergan, Donaldson
Cons: Donaldson 4
Pens: Donaldson 2
Argentina 13
Tries: Penalty try
Pens: De la Vega Mendia 2,

Rugby Traveller