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Rising star reflects on Super Rugby experience before ‘exciting’ U20 campaign

By Finn Morton
Harry McLaughlin-Phillips of the Queensland Reds (L) looks for a gap during the round eight Super Rugby Pacific match between Moana Pasifika and Queensland Reds at Semenoff Stadium, on April 12, 2024, in Whangarei, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Fresh off a sensational rookie campaign in Super Rugby Pacific with the Queensland Reds, flyhalf Harry McLaughlin-Phillips is expected to play a leading role with the Junior Wallabies at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Cape Town.

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Australia U20 fielded a star-studded squad at the event last year, but they had their work cut out for them in a pool of death that featured England, Fiji and Ireland. The Irish were coming off an unbeaten run to glory in the Six Nations U20 from February to March.

The Junior Wallabies kicked off their quest for world title glory with a 46-37 win over Fiji but they were on the wrong side of a heavy score themselves five days later against Ireland. That set up a blockbuster match against England which they needed to win.

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Tries to Leafi Talataina, Max Craig and an effort in the 77th minute from McLaughlin-Phillips set up a grandstand finish but the English held on for a 22-all draw – their second of the competition after finishing level with Ireland 34-all on the opening day.

Australia finished fifth in the tournament after beating New Zealand 44-35 and then Wales 57-33 in Athlone, but unlike last year, the Junior Wallabies are coming off a hotly-contested U20 Rugby Championship which was held on the Sunshine Coast.

“It’s really exciting to head back,” McLaughlin-Phillips told Nathan Williamson from Rugby.com.au.

“I think we’ve probably had a bit more preparation this year with The Rugby Championship and probably spent more time together as a group off the field so we’re excited to see how we can do over there.”

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McLaughlin-Phillips debuted for the Queensland Reds in the first round of the Super Rugby Pacific season before going on to make another seven appearances either off the bench or in a starting role.

With Wallabies squad member Tom Lynagh and the reliable Lawson Creighton in Les Kiss’ squad, it’s quite impressive to note that McLaughlin-Phillips started three matches. For a youngster still eligible for U20s duty, that’s by no means an easy feat.

Whenever McLaughlin-Phillips was thrown into the deep end, whether they be in a starting role or off the pine, the playmaker certainly held his own. No Queensland fan will soon forget that match-winning penalty at the breakdown in the tense win over the Chiefs at home.

“It’s been an awesome experience being able to debut and play a few games this year,” McLaughlin-Phillips reflected.

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“It’s given me the chance to grow my game and learn different things and how to control a team a bit better.”

Australia open their campaign against Georgia on Sunday morning [AEST]. The Junior Wallabies will also take on Italy and familiar foe Ireland as they look to move on from Pool B and into the knockout rounds.

In the other pools, fans should keep an eye out for a blockbuster between reigning champions France and U20 Rugby Championship winners New Zealand in the early hours of July 5. Wales and Spain are also in that pool.

Finally, in Pool C, hosts South Africa have been drawn in arguably the toughest pool against England, Argentina and Fiji.

Fans can catch the latest World Rugby U20 Championship action on RugbyPass TV. It’s free to sign up HERE.

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