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‘We’re hungry’: Junior Wallabies skipper believes team can win world title

By Finn Morton
Toby MacPherson of Australia in ac during The Rugby Championship U20 Round 1 match between Australia and Argentina at Sunshine Coast Stadium on May 02, 2024 in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Australia U20 captain Toby MacPherson remains confident that the Junior Wallabies “could win” their first-ever world title later this year even though they finished last in the inaugural Rugby Championship U20 on the Sunshine Coast.

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The Junior Wallabies have finished second at the World Rugby U20 Championship twice, which included a run to the final at the 2019 decider in Argentina. Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Noah Lolesio and Mark Nawaqanitawase were among those in the star-studded squad.

While Australia’s fourth-place finish in the Rugby Championship this month may not build them up as a team who can shock the world, there’s no denying they were improving throughout the tournament which ended with a heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand.

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Toby Macpherson excited for the U20 World Championship | TRC U20

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Toby Macpherson excited for the U20 World Championship | TRC U20

Following a heavy loss to Argentina and a hard-fought win over South Africa, the Nathan Grey-coached Australia outfit went toe-to-toe with a red-hot New Zealand side on Sunday evening. It was a one-point game with 10 minutes to play but the Kiwis managed to pull away.

“Disappointed” was the first word that came out of Toby MacPherson’s mouth in an interview after the 36-25 defeat. Every Australian player who walked up the tunnel to greet family and friends had a look of heartbreak on their face.

They had just watched the Baby Blacks lift the Rugby Championship’s gigantic trophy. It hurt them but if could also be the catalyst for future success as the team look to “get better quick” ahead of the U20 Championship from the end of next month.

“The (Wallabies’) World Cup was tough for us as a country and as a junior coming through the system it’s obviously tough to watch that unfold and the way it went down,” MacPherson told RugbyPass at Sunshine Coast Stadium.

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“I don’t think that reflects on our age group at all and I think we showed that when we do get it right we can execute some really good footy and I think that’s a really big bonus.

“Going into the World Cup off the back of last year, we’re hungry and the boys really want to push up into that top four.

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“Me as a captain I have all the belief in the world that we could win the title over there and we absolutely can.

“The boys have got to be better, I’ve got to be better as a captain – we’ve all got to get better and we’ve got to get better quick. That’s the ultimate goal.

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“As Australian rugby, I think we need to hold these couple of age groups together and really focus on developing us.

“I’m excited by the players that we have, we’ve got good talent, and I think so are they.

“The performances and the improvement over the last three games that this tournament has enabled us to do, I think there’s some exciting passage of play.

“I’m really excited going into the World Cup and optimistic that we can do really well.”

MacPherson mentioned the Junior Wallabies’ lack of execution multiple times during that four-minute interview. Point scoring opportunities and potentially even the match were there for the taking but the Aussies failed where the Kiwis thrived.

New Zealand made the most of some half-opportunities to strike, including Stanley Solomon’s second try late in the first half. The winger leapt up to intercept a lofted pass before beating his opponent’s with sheer pace to the house.

Fullback Angus Staniforth looked to hit back for the Junor Wallabies only a couple of minutes later but was bundled into touch with the try line practically within reach. So, New Zealand went into the break with the lead.

While Australia managed to regain the later on courtesy of a Will McCulloch double, the Baby Blacks rallied in clutch moments. First five Rico Simpson was sent to the sin bin late but that only seemed to spur the 14-man Kiwi side on.

The Junior Wallabies may be left to wonder what could’ve been.

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“Proud of the boys’ effort but disappointed. We created a lot of opportunities out there and we just didn’t get that last pass or we just didn’t get that final little bit of execution to finish it,” MacPherson said.

“We created enough opportunities to lift that trophy and going into South Africa that’s going to be our work on, is being able to ice those little touches when you make a line break.

“Proud of the boys. Obviously (I’m a) bit disappointed. No one wanted to see them lift the trophy.

“I had confidence in the boys at all points of the game and I think so did they but we just fell short and didn’t quite execute our A-zone.

“I think you can see our progression throughout this tournament has been massive,” he added.

“Round one we had a bit of a shocker and we all admitted that, round two we showed a really gutsy effort, and then this round we created a lot of opportunities but as I said, we just didn’t finish it.

“Going into the World Cup we’re positive and we believe but we’ve got a lot of learning to do and that’s a part of footy and I think all the boys are up for that.”

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