A 14-man Junior Wallabies have salvaged a bonus point from their 56-33 loss to England at the U20 world championships, snaring top spot in their pool to set up a semi-final clash against host nation Argentina.
A red card to no.8 Pat Tafa in the second minute of the match left the Junior Wallabies a man down for almost the entire match and England made hay, running in eight tries to notch a convincing win.
Australia had already secured a semi-final spot with bonus point wins over Italy and Ireland from their opening matches in Pool B but wanted to maintain momentum with a win against England.
But that was made almost impossible after Tafa was handed a red card in just the second minute when his shoulder made contact with the neck of English backrower Aaron Hinkley in a front-on tackle.
HIGHLIGHTS: @englandrugby beat @qantaswallabies 56-33 at World Rugby U20 Championship.— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 12, 2019
England will play in the 5th place semi-final v Ireland while Australia head into the Championship semi-final v Argentina pic.twitter.com/R8jrXEEtvD
Referee Craig Evans found there were no mitigating circumstances, with Tafa not dropping his height as he made contact with Hinkley's neck and head in what seemed a relatively innocuous hit.
But with safety paramount, any high contact has been strongly punished at this tournament and Tafa was handed his marching orders.
While the Junior Wallabies clawed their way back to almost level terms midway through the first half after going down 14-0 inside the opening 10 minutes, there was little other joy in the first half, with England running in six converted tries and pushed their lead out to 37 points early in the second half with another try.
The Junior Wallabies finished the stronger though, outscoring their rivals 21-7 in the final half-hour to leave captain Fraser McReight proud of his men.
"It's a bittersweet feeling, I suppose, making the semis before this game and then getting a red card two minutes in," McReight said.
"It wasn't the start we wanted, we wanted that scalp (of England) to be honest.
"But credit to England, they played really good footy and took advantage of the 14 men they were playing against.
"But I'm super proud of the boys. To play with 14 men for pretty much the whole game - at stages of that match we were (almost) 40 points behind - and to keep England from scoring too many tries in that second half and to put a lot more tries on was really pleasing."
McReight was outstanding, playing 80 minutes and forcing several turnovers before crashing over for the try that sealed Australia's bonus point.
But he said that had not been the motivation at half-time.
"We just wanted to go out in the second half and play the footy that we knew we could play and wanted to play and I think we did that," he said.
Australia will now take on Argentina in their semi-final after the host nation topped Pool A, while South Africa will play France after downing New Zealand 25-17 in their Pool C clash.
The Kiwis had the chance to seal a bonus point and sneak into fourth spot overall but could not seal a fourth try, knocking the ball on after the siren to miss the finals stages in a major upset.
Down a man in the pack, the Junior Wallabies struggled to contain the English scrum and were unable to prevent centre Fraser Dingwall from racing over to post their first try in the fourth minute.
They were further on the backfoot just minutes later when flyhalf Will Harrison made an error fielding a kick, with the ball popping into the hands of winger Ollie Sleightholme who raced down the right flank to score.
The converted try put the Junior Wallabies down 14-0 just nine minutes into the match and signs were ominous for the Aussies.
But they fought back with two tries of their own to get back into the match.
Noah Lolesio raced over in the 10th minute off a lovely backhand pass from Harrison and when Isaac Lucas finished an outstanding counter-attack by diving over, they were right back in the match at 14-12.
But the physical toll the fightback had taken quickly showed, with England making the most of their extra man and sending flanker Ted Hill over for a pair of quick tries to rack up a 16-point lead midway through the half.
Under massive pressure again from the English scrum, the Aussies were close to conceding a penalty try late in the half but resisted, only to have fullback Tom De Glanville crash over when they spread the ball wide.
And England inflicted another blow just before the break when Aaron Hinkley crashed over, the try awarded after the TMO was unable to find conclusively the openside flanker had lost control of the ball before grounding.
Josh Hodge's conversion made it 42-12 at the break.
The Junior Wallabies looked to be in shortly after the break when Noah Lolesio raced over following a break from Harry Wilson.
But the TMO ruled the pass from prop Angus Bell - that looked marginal at worst - was "clearly forward" and the try was denied.
England was in again soon after but not before they too, had been denied by the TMO.
After Joel K'poku was initially denied by Isaac Lucas, who dragged him down just short of the line, the second-rower looked to have eventually grounded the ball on the line but as Hodge was lining up the conversion, Evans asked for a ruling from the TMO, who denied the try.
They could not be held out for long though, with Manu Vunipola crashing over from the resulting scrum.
After workhorse Fraser McReight forced another turnover, the Junior Wallabies made the most of rare possession, with backrower Will Harris scoring following a barnstorming run.
England were relentless though, scoring again through Tom Willis before the Junior Wallabies turned the tables in the final minutes to salvage a bonus point.
Australia were finally rewarded for their persistence when McReight crashed over for a bonus point try and boosted their points differential when busy backrower Carlo Tizzano scored in the dying minutes.
Tries: Hill 2, Dingwall, Sleightholme, De Glanville, Hinkley, Vunipola, Willis
Cons: Hodge 8
Junior Wallabies 33
Tries: Lolesio, Lucas, Harris, McReight,, Tizzano
Cons: Harrison 2, McDonald 2