Junior Wallabies: Five things we learned from world champs campaign

World Rugby U20s Championship
by Emma Greenwood

The Junior Wallabies  will remain on the hunt for their first World rugby U20 crown after an agonising 24-23 grand final loss to France.

Here's five things we learned from their world championship campaign in Argentina.

1. The future is bright for Australian rugby.

It wasn’t just the result that was promising, although that in itself was a plus. The Junior Wallabies have never snared the U20 world championship, had not made the final since 2010 and had not visited the semi-finals since 2011.

While they fell agonisingly short of a maiden title, the Oceania championship win that included a 24-0 victory over New Zealand, and world championship wins against Italy, Ireland and Argentina, as well as fightbacks against England and France, showed Australia has plenty of talent coming through the ranks.

 

It's spread across the group too, with a strong and skillful forward pack that includes an outstanding backrow, well-organised halves and exciting backs.

Five members of the team - including outstanding no.8 Will Harris and flying winger Mark Nawaqanitawase - will also return next year, with many younger prospects also involved in Junior Wallabies camps this season before the final world championship cut, meaning the team retains plenty of experience.

Mark Nawaqanitawase races away for a try in the opening minute of the match. Photo: Getty Images

2. Today's bitter disappointment will become a great learning tool.

It's a tough pill to swallow for the gutted youngsters in the immediate aftermath of a one-point loss but the loss to France can make the Junior Wallabies involved in the final better players if they are willing to learn from the experience.

Gilmore and captain Fraser McReight have already highlighted the minutes leading into halftime - when Australia conceded eight points from a try and penalty - as a lapse that cost the team dearly.

And while many of the players will not want to watch a replay, they will no doubt already have memories already running like looped video of things they could have done better.

While goalkicking was an issue - the team missed two conversions and two penalties - team leaders moved swiftly to assure distressed kickers Will Harrison and Michael McDonald they alone were not responsible for the loss, with all players taking accountability.

 

3. Structures are in place to ensure the team has time to gel.

Benchmarks were agreed on with all Super Rugby clubs last year to prioritise the U20s if their players had not met a threshold of on-field minutes by the end of March.

It was tested when the Reds asked that Isaac Lucas be granted leave to enter staging camp late to play for an injury-hit Queensland against the Waratahs.

But officials held firm to protocols agreed on at the start of the season and reaped the benefits, with Lucas recognised as a rising star of the game and helping the Junior Wallabies seal their grand final berth.

The days of having Super Rugby players parachuted into the team without spending time in the Junior Wallabies set-up in the lead-in, seem over.

Isaac Lucas in action for the Reds against the Waratahs in his starting debut for Queensland. Photo: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley

4. Coaching set-up has to stay.

Junior Wallabies mentor Jason Gilmore has done an outstanding job moulding his young group into a cohesive unit over the past six months and will be back next year to lead the U20s in Italy.

A former Queensland development coach, Gilmore and his team have focussed on identifying and continuing to develop Australia's best talent.

With assistants Shannon Fraser and Ruaridh Murphy, Gilmore has a solid group around him and with several players returning next year, his mind is already on taking the final step to becoming world champions.

Junior Wallabies coach Jason Gilmore. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

5. And finally … stars of the future.

Gilmore says his players should not be expected to rush into Super Rugby next season and become "shining lights" for the Australian franchises straight away.

He's right, but history tells us there are players in this team that will push on to become outstanding Super Rugby and Test players.

 

Chief among them are young Reds McReight, Harry Wilson and Isaac Lucas, who both starred at this tournament.

The Junior Wallabies captain won three Super Rugby caps this season and along with backrow teammate Wilson, will be a leading candidate to replace Scott Higginbotham, who will link with Bordeaux next year.

 

McReight was nominated for breakout player of the tournament, while Lucas - who played all eight Reds games he was available for this year outside of Junior Wallabies commitments - was also highlighted by commentators as a star of the future.

Outstanding second-rowers Michael Wood, Trevor Hosea and Nick Frost, flyhalf Harrison, experienced centre Semisi Tupou and under-rated hooker Lachlan Lonergan also look set for higher honours.

Lachlan Lonergan and the Junior Wallabies are out for a second World Rugby U20s win. Photo: Getty Images