Junior Wallabies: McDonald escapes sanction but Australia face new hearing ahead of final

World Rugby U20s Championship
by Emma Greenwood

The Junior Wallabies have had another win in Argentina, with scrumhalf Michael McDonald free to play in the U20 world championship final after having no further penalty imposed following his red card in the semi-final victory against the Pumitas.

But they face another battle, with hooker Lachlan Lonergan to face the judiciary on Thursday morning, Australian time, after he was cited for a shoulder charge.

McDonald appeared before a judiciary panel after being sent off just before halftime in Australia's semi-final against Argentina following a second yellow-card infringement.

But the panel of Canada's Alan Hudson, former Scotland player Sarah Smith and former English player Leon Lloyd determined he deserved no further sanction and will be free to play in the decider against France on Sunday morning (Australian time).

Lonergan, who played a key part in Australia's semi-final win, diving over for a try from a lineout maul in the second half, has been cited for striking Argentinian no.8 Juan Bautista Pedemonte with his shoulder in breach of law 9.12.

The Junior Wallabies opened their World Rugby U20s campaign with a win over Italy. Photo: World Rugby

The under-rated hooker has been one of the Junior Wallabies' most consistent performers at this tournament and his loss would be a massive blow to the team.

But Australia will fight the matter, to be heard by Lloyd, Wales's Roger Morris and former Samoa and England player and Samoa U20 coach Ofisa Tonu'u.

If Lonergan escapes sanction, Australia expects to have a full-strength side available, with five-eighth Will Harrison recovered from a concussion suffered in the final pool match against England last week.

After a torrid week, which has included playing almost two hours of rugby with just 14 men, the Junior Wallabies had a full day of rest and recovery on Tuesday before beginning preparations to play defending champions France.

Defence has been a cornerstone of the Junior Wallabies' success this tournament and coach Jason Gilmore said that would continue to be the case in the final.

Defence has been the cornerstone of the Junior Wallabies' U20 world championship campaign. Photo: World Rugby

"I suppose playing 78 minutes a man short and then you get it again for 50 minutes of this game, (that defence has to be on point) and it is certainly something we're going to continue into that next game," Gilmore said.

"France won it last year, they're defending champions and they'll want to hold on to the trophy.

"South Africa are a very good outfit, they've prepared really well this year and a 20-7 (semi-final) victory in pretty trying conditions was a pretty good result for France, so it'll be a good game."

The French have five players over 110kg, including lock Florent Vanverberghe (120kg) and reserve forward Eli Eglaine (122kg) and will present a challenge for the Australians.

"We're happy with the backline but to win World Cups, you need your forward pack strong and it'll be another battle against France there," Gilmore said.

 

"They're a big side and they've got a couple of boys back from last year, so our forward pack have to aim up to let our backs do their thing."

But they will head into the decider undermanned after flanker Sacha Zegueur was banned for four matches earlier in the tournament for a dangerous tackle on Argentinian flyhalf Joaquin de la Vega Mendia.

The Junior Wallabies have benefited from spending plenty of time together in camp and at the Oceania championships over the past six months where captain Fraser McReight said they forged a strong player-led culture that has benefited their campaign.

"Our strength doesn't lie in our forwards or backs, we've got strengths all around the park, so we can match anyone on any day," McReight said.

Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight (right) about to join teammates in a tackle in the semi-final against Argentina. Photo: World Rugby

"But I think our biggest attribute is our culture, our team environment. We do everything together, we're very tight and that helps massively when you're competing, you're sweating and you're bleeding for your mates for 80 minutes.

"Everyone knows we want to win.

"That's what the coaching staff tried to instill in us at the very first camp and it's all player-driven as well.

"Everyone knows what we've got to do over here."