After four rounds of Super Rugby AU, a number of last year’s history-making Junior Wallabies squad have stood up and made their presence known on the national stage.
With the competition pitting the next generation of Australian talent against the incumbent Wallabies, one of the competition’s standouts has been last years under-20s captain, Fraser McReight.
McReight has held his own in what is arguably the most dangerous and promising backrow in Australian rugby, packing down alongside 22-year-old Reds captain Liam Wright, and 20-year-old Harry Wilson.
The flanker starred in the first three matches of the Australian-only competition for the Reds, currently topping the charts for turnovers won, with six, despite last weekend’s bye.
The two-time Australian under-20s player of the year is pleased with how he’s performed since the COVID break, but admitted that there’s still plenty of work to be done within his game.
“Obviously it’s a lot different starting than coming off the bench. Actually getting a full 80-minutes to test yourself against fresh players and grow your game and learn about your game is something I’ve done,” McReight told RugbyPass.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement but I’ve been pretty happy in terms of what I’ve done and what I’ve added to the team so far.
“I haven’t really solidified my position yet but that’s something that I definitely want to do.”
McReight became the 1338th player to represent his state after coming off the bench in March of 2019, but had to wait until round one of Super Rugby AU against the Waratahs to make his starting debut.
Lining up against Michael Hooper, the 21-year-old won four turnovers for his side including a vital penalty at the breakdown late in the match that all but secured the historic victory.
While his starting debut drew plenty of attention from fans and pundits, he said that he felt comfortable just playing his game against some of rugby’s best.
“I worked really hard during the COVID break and during the preseason, so I was ready to handle whatever the Waratahs threw at me and threw at us.
“Going up against the Wallabies captain, it was pretty special, to be honest, but I was just trying to do my job and do it as best as I could.”
McReight’s elite work rate and his leadership is nothing new to those who saw the flanker impress for Brisbane Grammar in Brisbane’s GPS high school competition, and representative sides including the Junior Wallabies.
After playing for the Australian under-20s in 2018, McReight was named as captain for his second spell with the squad last year.
He led the Junior Wallabies to their first Oceania under-20s title on the Gold Coast, which included a momentous 24-0 victory over New Zealand.
McReight ended all hopes of a miracle Baby Blacks comeback late in the match, crossing over for a try in what he described as being a “massive” win for Australian rugby.
“I played the year before and we got beaten by a quality New Zealand side. Coming through that year in 2018, we didn’t really have much confidence about it, no one was really wanting to win I suppose.
“Last year was completely different, we had a great team and we knew exactly the sort of backs and forwards we had, we complimented each other really well.
“We knew that we were going to bash them up front. Our forward pack laid the platform for our silky backs and you could just look at what that did for us: we beat a New Zealand team 24-0 and I don’t think that that’s ever happened at that level or any junior level.”
Keeping New Zealand to nil set the tone for what promised to be an exciting Junior World Championships campaign for Australia in Argentina.
In a pool with Italy, England and Ireland, Australia snuck through to the knockout rounds despite a loss to the English.
After defeating hosts Argentina 34-13 in the semi-finals, Australia faced defending champions France.
They lost the final by one-point, with Will Harrison and Michael McDonald only converting three from seven set shots.
EXCLUSIVE: One of the most decorated players of the modern era was unceremoniously dumped out of the @Wallabies – and he did not take it well. Matt Giteau reflects on the build up to 2011. #Wallabieshttps://t.co/jMXeHtmZnm
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 3, 2020
Still, McReight took plenty of positives out of the record-equalling performance, matching Australia’s runner up finish from the 2010 instalment of the competition.
“They’ve been my favourite part of rugby that I’ve ever been in, especially last year where it was such a tight group, everyone got along.
“It wasn’t what we wanted to do in the final, the French side were really quality, and if we could go back, there’s definitely some things we’d change.
“I know for me that I would’ve loved to have won that and done something that no other Australian under-20s side has done, but on the flipside of that, we’re still so proud of what we were still able to achieve.”
The Australian Schools and under-18s side also broke another hoodoo against their Trans-Tasman rivals last year, defeating New Zealand schools 18-14 in Hamilton to break a seven-year streak.
It’s the start of what could be a golden generation for Australian rugby, with McReight aiming for future successes on the back of the nation’s emerging talent.
“My goals personally is that I want to play for the Wallabies and I’m not shying away from that, that’s something that I really want to do.
“I want to win a Bledisloe and I want to win a World Cup. I don’t just want to be a Wallaby, I want to be a winning Wallaby.
“There’s a lot of hard work to get there, and a new coaching set-up at the Wallabies that I think is going to be something pretty special. The new group that we’ve got coming through is also going to be really exciting.
“I’m really keen to see what’s happening in the future and work my way there to play and put the gold jersey on.”
But to reach those higher honours, McReight is going to have to continue to impress when given the chance to represent his state.
Before the coronavirus suspended Super Rugby, the Reds were made to rue their goal kicking woes, losing tight games including a match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Even though the Reds appear to be clicking now with an undefeated record in Super Rugby AU, McReight is still expecting more improvement from his side.
“When you come back into the Super Rugby AU season, it’s not going to be what it was like when we left. It was two, three months ago, so you have to start fresh.
“For us, our attack hasn’t been on song yet but the scary thing for us is we haven’t lost a game, we’re two wins and one draw, and we’ve probably been playing at 60 per cent.”
The Queensland Reds face the ACT Brumbies in Canberra in what will be a decisive match in the context of Super Rugby AU.
The Reds haven’t won in the capital in six-years, with McReight clear in saying that it was a piece of history that it’s “definitely something that we’re coming for.”
After starting the first three matches of Super Rugby AU, McReight has been named on the bench in what is expected to be a close contest between the competition’s top two sides.
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