If there’s one thing that Australia haven’t lacked for in recent years it is openside flankers, and the latest name to make an impression is Fraser McReight.
From David Pocock and Michael Hooper battling it out for the Wallaby jersey to Matt Hodgson’s stellar showings on the west coast and George Smith’s timeless wanderings around the rugby world, it’s one position that Australia have been truly blessed at in recent years.
Jack Dempsey has shown his ability, too, whilst Liam Wright has impressed in Super Rugby since graduating from the U20s in 2017. Now it is McReight, Wright’s teammate at the Reds, putting down his own marker.
The flanker has already led his side to success in the Oceania Rugby U20 Championship, beating New Zealand and lifting the trophy for the first time in its five-year history, and he helped get his side off to a blistering start at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina, spearheading a 36-12 win over Italy.
His captain-to-captain and openside-to-openside match-up with Italy’s Davide Ruggeri was a highly anticipated one, but there was only one winner in Santa Fe on Tuesday, as McReight was totally dominant at the contact area. Italy’s ball security at the breakdown was constantly under threat from McReight and Harry Wilson, another promising flanker coming through at the Reds.
McReight was also on hand as a prominent ball-carrier, helping set up Will Harris’ opening try with a nice line back in against the grain close to the ruck and a pinpoint offload to the supporting number eight. He carried with power and pace throughout the game and there was little Italy could do to stop him in defence.
It was a consummate performance from the Junior Wallabies and one which would likely have finished 36-0 or even better, had it not been for a late yellow card and the Australians taking their foot off the gas for two consolation Italian scores.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 4, 2019
As a breakdown influencer and a carrier, not to mention his savvy and respectful words in the referee’s ear which seemed to pre-empt Italian penalties being spotted and called, it was as good a performance as you could expect to see at this level and it bodes well for not only Australian rugby at the senior international level, but also the programme that Brad Thorn is trying to build in Queensland.
Before McReight can eye up succeeding the likes of Pocock, he’ll have to battle the promising Wright for a spot at club level, but the marker he put down on Tuesday was an impactful one. His next task will be taking on Ireland on Saturday, before Australia go head-to-head with three-times winners of this competition, England, next week.
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