Junior Wallabies: Coach sees bright future despite finals loss

World Rugby U20s Championship
by Emma Greenwood

Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore is already looking to the future, saying the challenge for Australian rugby is to back up its U20 world championship next year to become a consistent force at this level.

The Junior Wallabies suffered an agonising 24-23 loss to France in the U20 world championship final in Argentina on Sunday morning (Australian time), with Gilmore and his players left "gutted" after being unable to lift the trophy for the first time.

While he was proud of his players and optimistic about the future of the Junior Wallabies program, Gilmore conceded his team had let an opportunity slip in the final against an outstanding French team that was able to defend its title.

"We're always proud of the boys but everyone's pretty gutted with the result to lose by a point," Gilmore said.

Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore has finalised his squad for the world U20 championships in Argentina next month. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

"We probably just gifted them eight points just before halftime which put them back in the lead, then we fought back well in the second half.

"But their young five-eighth (Louis) Carbonel kicked really well for goal and proved the difference off the tee.

"They're defending champions from last year and they've got some key players back this year, so they were always going to be a tough opposition."

Holding a 13-10 lead in the shadows of halftime, the Junior Wallabies conceded eight points in four minutes through a try and penalty in a lapse that would prove costly.

While they fought back to take the lead twice again in the second half, missed opportunities at goal and the experience of the defending champions in the final stages proved the difference.

French captain Arthur Vincent hoists the trophy after the win. Photo: Getty Images

Australia missed two conversions and two penalties, with Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight and fellow players consoling kickers Will Harrison and Michael McDonald after the match.

"I spoke to both of them and obviously they were both shattered, heads in their hands," McReight said.

"But we all reinforced that fact that it was not their fault.

"As a team you can never blame a player for missing a kick or missing a try opportunity and I think everyone knows that.

"Everyone knows it was their own personal game that let them down. They were shattered obviously."

 

Like Gilmore, McReight pointed to the period leading into halftime as his side's major lapse.

"We piggybacked them and gave them eight points (leading into halftime)," McReight said.

"And that's what (ultimately) won them the game. We were up 13-10 and (in a four-minute period leading into halftime) they scored eight points because we piggybacked them.

"And that's what's frustrating. It's frustrating that we didn't play our best football and everyone's gutted.

"But I can't say enough positive things about the group of people.

"I'm so proud of their effort. It wasn't a blowout, it was a point. And while the lads are devastated, they played well, so it's tough."

Harry Wilson makes a break as the Junior Wallabies attempt to chase down France in the final stages. Photo: Rugby AU Media

Well, but McReight conceded, not at the level they had reached at other points in this tournament, another reason for their devastation after the final.

"We didn't play the best football that we've played which is very frustrating considering it's a final and you want to play the best football you can," he said.

"I would say we played good footy but we weren't up to the standard that we knew we could play.

"That match we played would win Test matches against other nations, just unfortunately that's where the experience of the French side that played last year (came through), they stepped up in the big moments.

"They played really good footy, up tempo and they were able to counteract us.

"Maybe after scoring in the first minute of the game we were thinking: 'How easy is this, we're going to sweep them'.

 

"But at halftime, (we knew) our defence wasn't very good and we had to roll up our sleeves."

Gilmore said it had been a "tough day" but like McReight, would not blame his kickers.

"The boys are accountable for what they do on the football field, they're all really competitive guys," he said.

"Goal-kicking shouldn't lose you a game but it can certainly win you a game.

"There were other elements in the game that we could've taken our chances - a couple of line breaks that we didn't make the most of either that would have helped on the scoreboard.

"It was just a tough day."

 

But the team had set a benchmark for future campaigns, with consistency now key for a team that had made the final only once previously and not visited the final four since 2011.

"It's been a good program this year obviously notwithstanding not getting the job done today," Gilmore said.

"The challenge for us and all of our staff as well is we've got to back it up next year.

"There's no point not getting there again for another eight or nine years."