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The towering 6 foot plus Junior Wallabies' midfielders turning heads

By Ben Smith
Taj Annan of the Queensland Reds during the Super Rugby match between Queensland Reds and Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium on March 31, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Kev Nagle/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

A narrow loss by 19-18 to New Zealand U20 ended a successful two-match tour by the Junior Wallabies who managed to come away with a drawn series.

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After last year’s 69-12 humbling, a 34-26 win on New Zealand soil and a one-point loss over two matches was a stark improvement and on balance, a major win for the Junior Wallabies against the New Zealand U20 side who had home advantage.

Despite the small sample size to work with, Rugby Australia has an early indication they have another special crop of talent on the horizon.

Starring over the two matches were the forward pack unit, who dominated the set-piece in both matches under head coach Nathan Grey’s guidance.

Halfback and captain Teddy Wilson, who has debuted for the Waratahs already, was electric in the first match.

But the two midfielders that had tongues wagging on the broadcast during the second game were 6 ft 3 inside centre Taj Annan and 6 ft outside centre Henry O’Donnell.

The pair started the second match together, with Rebels product David Vaihu paired with O’Donnell in the first contest.

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Annan’s big body was used as a hard carry option on the Junior Walalbies’ set-piece launches. Possessing sharp footwork and explosive pace, he was a handful every time he touched the ball with multiple defenders tasked with bringing him down.

New Zealand’s pundits were impressed with his size, he was described as a ‘huge man’ by former Highlander Joey Wheeler who was ‘everywhere’ in the opening stages.

He exploded with an injection of pace in the 8th minute to create a line break, however the pass went astray with a man looming on the inside.

Both midfielders then combined with Sevens ace Darby Lancaster for another line break down the left-hand side early in the first half.

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Centre O’Donnell was a defensive rock in the first match, rocking New Zealand’s runners with bruising tackles and disrupting their attacking plans.

It was more of the same in the second clash as New Zealand U20s found it tough to break that channel, finding success instead on the very edges against the wingers.

The Junior Wallaby No 13 showed his skill late in the game when he combined with Jack Bowen, regathering a planned chip kick for a try.

Annan is in the Queensland Reds squad and made his Super Rugby debut against the Drua this year, while Henry O’Donnell is in the Waratahs setup.

The sizeable pair weren’t the only tall options in the backline, with Carter Gordon’s brother Mason at fullback standing at 6 ft 2, and wing Darby Lancaster at 6 ft 1.

The Junior Wallabies squad showed in New Zealand they have a genuine contender for this year’s World U20 Championship with a defensively strong side stacked with promising athletes.

They will play Fiji first up in pool play before a key crunch match against the Six Nations U20 champions Ireland, before finishing pool play against England.

 

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