The Junior Wallabies will head into tomorrow’s crunch U20 world championship semi-final without flyhalf Will Harrison after the key playmaker was ruled out of the sudden-death contest with concussion.
Ben Donaldson will instead wear the no.10 jersey, bringing plenty of experience after being a key part of last year’s world championship campaign.
Harrison was one of the stars of Australia’s victorious Oceania Cup campaign before carrying his form into the world championships.
But a head knock late in Australia’s final pool match against England left the no.10 concussed and with only five days between that game and the semi-final against host nation Argentina, he has not yet recovered.
Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore said Donaldson was the perfect replacement and had the full faith of the squad.
“Benny was a part of our program last year and camps and started at five-eighth for us at Oceania (against Fiji), he’s come off the bench twice here at five-eighth and looked really comfortable in that last 20 minutes against England, so we’ve got every confidence that Benny will do the job,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said he hadn’t considered shuffling fellow playmakers Noah Lolesio (inside centre) or Isaac Lucas (fullback), who both can play at no.10.
“The main thing is we know Benny can do a job, so there’s no thinking that we need to shuffle guys out of position,” Gilmore said.
“And we don’t want to move Noah or Isaac, who are doing really well in their preferred positions.
“Those two will obviously cover in behind Benny but that’s the reason we’ve picked Benny here is for five-eighth and fullback cover and that’s what he’s going to do.”
The Junior Wallabies will also be without Pat Tafa, who received a one-match suspension following his red card against England.
Discipline will be key for Australia, with cards readily handed out at this tournament and referees strictly enforcing rules on high contact, in particular.
“It’s pretty over officiated at the moment, that rule,” Gilmore said.
“I’m all for protecting the boys with contact to the head but there just needs to be some common sense with it.
“When you look at the players at the tournament and how many have been red-carded and then you look at their suspensions that they’re not receiving off the back of the red card, it makes you question whether the red card is justified or should it be a yellow card.
“It’s just what it is at the tournament.
“You’re definitely aware of it and you’ve just got to make sure your contact’s below the shoulders.”
Defence though will be the focus for the Australians against a home side that plays in the Argentinian style, focussing on set play at the scrum and lineout maul, capitalising on a strong pack.
“They’re always a tough team to play, it’s a bit like their national team or (Super Rugby’s) Jaguares as well but obviously playing at home when you’ve got that crowd support behind you and there’s expectation for them, it’s certainly lifted them to get into the semis and they’ve certainly deserved their spot,” Gilmore said.
“We’ll back our defence, that’s been the backbone of our footy team.
“Obviously being a man down against England threw a spanner in the works but we weren’t happy with how we defended in that first half even though we were a man short.
“It wasn’t what this team’s about. We picked it back up in the second half but we take real pride in how we defend and we want to put a marker in the ground tomorrow.”
A win is the singular goal though, with the Junior Wallabies strong campaign coming to an end if that doesn’t happen.
“That’s what it comes down to, it’s finals footy,” Gilmore said.
“You’ve got to perform well and you’ve got to keep working hard and in tough games like this it’s about momentum as well.
“When momentum’s against you, you’ve got to look to break it but when you’ve got that momentum, you’ve got to work hard to make sure those periods of time actually extend and you don’t lose momentum quickly.”
After a tough period for the game in Australia, the Junior Wallabies are providing real excitement for the future of rugby and are grateful for the support they’re generating.
“It’s been excellent, we’ve got great support from the families that have travelled to Argentina with us and the boys are aware of everything that’s going on back home,” he said.
“The boys are really proud to play for their country and they want to represent the people well.”
The Junior Wallabies take on Argentina in the semi-final of the U20 world championships in Rosario, Argentina, on Tuesday, June 18, kicking off at 2am AEST, live on Fox Sports and Kayo.
Junior Wallabies to face Argentina
1. Angus Bell, Sydney University
2. Lachlan Lonergan, Tuggeranong Vikings
3. Josh Nasser, University of Queensland
4. Michael Wood, Brothers
5. Trevor Hosea, Harlequins Rugby Club
6. Harry Wilson, Brothers
7. Fraser McReight (C), Brothers
8. Will Harris, Eastern Suburbs
9. Michael McDonald, Palmyra
10. Ben Donaldson, Randwick
11. Mark Nawaqanitawase, Eastwood
12. Noah Lolesio, Tuggeranong Vikings
13. Semisi Tupou, Box Hill
14. Sione Tui, Melbourne Unicorns
15. Isaac Lucas, Sunnybank
16. Joe Cotton, Wests Bulldogs
17. Bo Abra, Eastern Suburbs
18. Darcy Breen, Sydney University
19. Rhys Van Nek, Easts
20. Esei Ha’angana, Melbourne Unicorns
21. Carlo Tizzano, University of Western Australia
22. Nick Frost, Queanbeyan Whites
24. Henry Robertson, Sydney University
26. Kye Oates, University of Queensland
27. Joey Walton, Gordon