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Junior Wallabies name side for ‘exciting’ opener at U20 Championships

By Finn Morton
Australia line up for the national anthem during the match between New Zealand U20 and the Junior Wallabies at NZCIS on May 29, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Following a series of impressive performances in warmup games against New Zealand U20 and the Australian Barbarians, the Junior Wallabies have confirmed their side to open their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign against Fiji.

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The Junior Wallabies shocked the rugby world last month when they travelled across the ditch to face their old foes the Baby Blacks – winning the first match by eight points in Wellington.

While they weren’t able to go back-to-back in the other clash at Sky Stadium later that week, Australia showed plenty of fight, potential and passion in the thrilling one-point loss.

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Playmaker Harry McLaughlin-Phillips starred in the green and gold strip against the Australian Barbarians in Sydney last week, as the Junior Wallabies ran away with a 92-17 win.

This team will genuinely believe that they can do what no Junior Wallabies side before them has ever done – and that’s winning the U20 Championship.

McLaughlin-Phillips has been rewarded for his sensational outing, with coach Nathan Grey selecting the young Queensland Reds talent in the No. 10 jersey to take on Fiji U20.

McLaughlin-Phillips will partner ACT Brumbies halfback Klayton Thorn in the halves.

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With team captain Teddy Wilson set to come off the bench at Danie Craven Stadium on Saturday, Reds flanker Nick Baker will lead the team out in their tournament opener.

“After a long build-up and three good hit-outs prior to arriving in South Africa, it’s exciting for the 23 players named to have their first opportunity to pull on the gold jersey at the tournament,” coach Nathan Grey said in a statement.

“With five games in the next four weeks, and each game having a five-day turnaround, it’s critical that all our players get an opportunity to get accustomed to the conditions and combinations.

“The training week has been excellent with the squad enjoying an opposed session against Georgia, which helped to sharpen the focus for Saturday’s challenge.

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“While the wet and heavy conditions in Cape Town will have an impact, we are still intent on delivering our style of rugby against Fiji.”

Western Force prop Marley Pearce joins Brumbies hooker Liam Bowron and Reds tighthead Nick Bloomfield in a formidable front row.

Brumbies lock Toby MacPherson partners Rebels talent Daniel Maiava in the second row to complete the Junior Wallabies’ tight five.

Captain Nick Baker starts at openside, while the Brumbies’ Lachlan Hooper and Rebels backrower Leafi Talataina complete the loose forward trio.

Outside the halves pairing of Thorn and McLaughlin-Phillips, David Vaihu joins Reds centre Taj Annan in the midfield. Annan has been sensational in Super Rugby Pacific for the Queenslanders.

Australian sevens ace and Melbourne Rebels recruit Darby Lancaster has been named on the left wing, while try-scoring machine Ronan Leahy is set to start on the right.

Rising star Mason Gordon will run out in the No. 15 jersey.

The Junior Wallabies take on Fiji U20 at 12.30 am AEST on Sunday morning (4.30 pm SAST on Saturday) at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch.

Junior Wallabies to take on Fiji U20

  1. Marley Pearce
  2. Liam Bowron
  3. Nick Bloomfield
  4. Toby Macpherson
  5. Daniel Maiava
  6. Lachlan Hooper
  7. Nick Baker (c)
  8. Leafi Talataina
  9. Klayton Thorn
  10. Harry McLaughlin-Phillips
  11. Darby Lancaster
  12. David Vaihu
  13. Taj Annan
  14. Ronan Leahy
  15. Mason Gordon

Replacements:

  1. Harrison Usher
  2. Max Craig
  3. Trevor King
  4. Ollie McCrea
  5. Ned Slack-Smith
  6. Teddy Wilson
  7. Jack Bowen
  8. Henry O’Donnell
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