Junior Wallabies win through to world champs final
A COURAGEOUS Junior Wallabies side battled for 50 minutes with just 14 men to win through to the final of rugby's World Under-20 Championships for the first time since 2010.
The 34-13 semi-final victory over hosts Argentina in Rosario early this morning has propelled skipper Fraser McReight's young band into a Sunday decider (4.20am AEST) against defending champions France.
They may be juniors by age division but there was maturity, quality and shrewd organisation to everything standout flanker McReight and his team did to cover the send off of halfback Michael McDonald on halftime.
McDonald made a committed but high tackle to save a try on halftime which the referee turned into a penalty try and a red card because the Western Australian had already spent 10 minutes in the sin bin for a tip tackle on a leaping Argentinian winger in the first half.
The Australian lead was trimmed to 17-13 at that instant so the whole campaign was on the line with 14 men.
McReight showed his nerve straight after halftime when he waved off a shot at penalty goal to go for a try from a lineout. The well-worked lineout drive speared hooker Lachlan Lonergan over.
The field position had initially been won by a charge down and little extras like this have made this Junior Wallabies a step above so many poorly performed and disjointed Under-20s sides of the past decade.
Fullback Isaac Lucas pulled off an excellent trysaving tackle in the corner when the Argentinians came back strongly.
McReight, 20, was exceptional and showed exactly why Queensland Reds coach Brad Thorn rated him so highly he gave him three Super Rugby runs off the bench earlier this year.
The headgeared skipper won five turnovers, including the all-important steal 15m out from his own tryline when the home side was pressing in the 55th minute.
He dashed upfield and fed fly half Ben Donaldson, who kicked ahead, toed the ball a second time and won the race for the dot down.
Donaldson popped over the conversion and his 19-point haul was invaluable because he was an accomplished fill-in for injured regular Will Harrison.
Strapping blindside flanker Harry Wilson will be a candidate to replace Bordeaux-bound Scott Higginbotham in the Reds backrow next season.
His flat ball to send centre Semisi Tupou crashing ahead after 15 minutes showed the Australian game plan in the tricky wet conditions.
Wilson took a return pass and galloped and it wasn't the last time.
The Junior Wallabies only had 14 on the field when Lucas filled in at halfback to feed Lonergan.
Lonergan ran a good inside line and the ever-present Wilson was in support to score the try.
Late in the half, inside centre Noah Lolesio, on contract with the Brumbies, ran another strong inside line to pierce the defence and his flip pass found McDonald for the try and 17-6.
"It was a tough effort by the boys today. To keep Argentina scoreless apart from the penalty try shows the character of the group," Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore said.
"The forward pack again stood up to the challenge with the backs covering a man down for 50 minutes.
"I'm really proud of the players and staff with the effort they are putting in but everyone knows we have one more to get."
Lightning had stopped play in Rosario earlier in the day and the kick-off in the semi-final was delayed by more than half an hour.
In the final, the Junior Wallabies will face France, who knocked off South Africa 20-7 in the other semi-final.
An 8-7 loss to Wales in the lower bracket sentenced New Zealand to a finish outside the top six for the first time in the 12-year history of the championships.
The final will be broadcast live at 4.20am AEST on Fox Sports 506 and Kayo Sports on Sunday.
Junior Wallabies 34 (Harry Wilson, Michael McDonald, Lachlan Lonergan, Ben Donaldson tries; Ben Donaldson 4 con, 2 pens) defeated Argentina 13 (Penalty Try; Joaquin De La Vega Mendia 2 pens)