Undermanned Junior Wallabies breeze past Italy

World Rugby U20s Championship
by Sam Phillips

The Junior Wallabies have earned the chance to go one better than their 2017 World Rugby U20s finish, breezing past Italy 44-15 despite playing with 14 men for almost 60 minutes.

Peculiarly, it was a red card to blindside flanker Michael Wood in the 25th minute that triggered the Australians into action, having started the game in sluggish style to the point where Italy had opened up a 10-5 lead when Wood was handed his marching orders.

Both sides traded jabs in an opening 15 minutes filled with big hits and box kicks and it was one of the latter that sparked the first points of the match, star Italian winger Giovanni D’Onofrio plucking the ball from above McTaggart, stepping Lawson Creighton and running away to score.

The Australians responded with a superb 11-phase set that began with a counterattack from Bayley Kuenzle and Creighton, some strong carries and quick hands from Fraser McReight and Wood setting up Harry Hockings.

Giovanni D'Onofrio scored a hat trick for Italy. Photo: World RugbyThe Italians rinsed and repeated the kick for D’Onofrio and it worked once again in the 23rd minute, this time beating Lonergan, dishing the ball and getting it back to score his second.

A TMO review was called but not to review D'Onofrio's second, rather, an apparent kick to the head of an Italian player in the ruck.

In trying to kick the ball clear in the ruck Wood had kicked an opponent and made direct contact with the head, shown a red card as a result.

To their credit the Australians settled, responded through a penalty to Lonergan and earned prime field position when Efi Maafu forced a pilfer penalty.

The ensuing lineout was blown but some superb hands from Maafu, Hamish Stewart and Semisi Tupou set up a brilliant try for the star flyhalf moments later, handing the Australians their first lead despite being down a man.

The score would stay at 15-10 as two fired up outfits trotted into the sheds and when play resumed, numbers were levelled up for 10 minutes when reserve Italian prop Matteo Nocera was sent to the sin bin for a tip tackle on Angus Blyth.Bayley Kuenzle starred at inside centre. Photo: World RugbyFrom the penalty that followed Tupou split the line, another sharp run from Jordan Petaia putting the Australians in the field position required for McReight to charge over and open up a 22-10 lead.

Coach Jason Gilmore injected reserve prop George Francis into the fray with 20 minutes to play and he immediately made his impact known, driving the Australians to the Italian line with two monstrous carries up the middle before picking and driving his way over, extending the lead to 29-10.

McReight, who was arguably Australia's best in Wood's absence, forced a penalty at the breakdown three minutes later and when Lonergan knocked another penalty over, the Italians dipped their heads.

D'Onofrio nabbed his third after beating two questionable McTaggart tackles but McReight soon had a double and Kuenzle crossed late, too, blowing the margin out.

Having started in scintillating fashion the Italians proved no match for the 14 man Junior Wallabies, who must be commended for a resilient showing which books their spot in the fifth place playoff.

They'll face Argentina on Sunday at 10pm AEST.

RESULT

Junior Wallabies 44

Tries: McReight 2Hockings, Stewart, Francis, Kuenzle

Cons: Lonergan 3, Harrison

Pens: Lonergan 2

Italy U20s 15

Tries: D'Onofrio 3