14-man Junior Wallabies survive major Fijian scare to open U20 World Championships

Sat, Jun 24, 2023, 4:15 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Darby Lancaster got a double as the Junior Wallabies escaped with victory over Fiji. Photo: World Rugby
Darby Lancaster got a double as the Junior Wallabies escaped with victory over Fiji. Photo: World Rugby

The Junior Wallabies have overcome a red card and a spirited Fijian outfit to escape with a 46-37 win to open their U20 World Championship campaign.

The Australians were forced to come from behind and finished the last 27 minutes with 14 men after Western Force prop Marley Pearce was sent off for a high tackle.

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It allowed Fiji to take an eight-point lead with just under 20 minutes to go as they played the conditions perfectly, only for the Nathan Grey's stars to step up in the key moments.

Man-of-the-match David Vaihu was immense in the backline whilst Sevens star Darby Lancaster's superb second try put the Aussies back in front with 12 minutes to go.

Waratahs duo Teddy Wilson and Jack Bowen came off the bench to help close out the victory, starting their tournament on a strong note.

The rotated Junior Wallabies side struggled early in the greasy conditions as the Fijians looked for a major upset

Despite this, they found their feet and controlled the first 30 minutes to take a commanding 24-13 lead.

Hooker Liam Bowron scored the opening try of the game for the Junior Wallabies, followed by prop Nick Bloomfield backing up Vaihu's break for a try

A yellow card to Tupeni Waqalala provided the ideal space for star duo Taj Annan and Darby Lancaster to combine, with the Sevens flyer diving over the line.

However, the Fijians refused to die wondering and captain Motikiai Murray powered through the line, reducing Australia’s lead to 24-20 at the break.

When try-scorer Vaihu set up Rohan Leahy after the break, the Junior Wallabies looked to run away with the contest.

However, the game then completely flipped when the TMO found prop Pearce to have taken Mesake Vocevoce high. The Western Force prop’s incident was initially given a yellow, only to be upgraded to a red.

It allowed Fiji to strike as Timoci Nakalevu gave them a five point lead, with flyhalf Isaiah Ravula extending the lead out to eight to complete a perfect night from the boot.

With the Fijians threatening to run away with the game, the injection of Teddy Wilson and Jack Bowen steadied the ship for the Junior Wallabies.

The Easts pair combined with Mason Gordon to reduce the margin to a point before Bowen found Lancaster as the flyer showcased the Sevens skills, racing past the defence to run 60 metres for a great solo try.

Bowen’s kicking game closed out the game as the Australians escaped with victory, taking them to top of Pool B after Ireland and England’s 34-all draw earlier in the day.

JUNIOR WALLABIES 46 (TRIES: Lancaster 2, Bowron, Bloomfield, Vaihu, Leahy, Gordon; CONS: Gordon 2, Bowen 2; PENS: Bowen) DEF FIJI U20 37 (TRIES: Waqaicece, Murray, Tagivetaua, Nakalevu; CONS: Ravula 4; PENS: Ravula 3)

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