Australia U20 v South Africa U20: Boks don't look like world champs ...

7 May 2024
U20 Rugby Championship

The Junior Wallabies have got their Rugby Championship U20 campaign back on track with a hard-earned 24-19 win over the Junior Springboks on Tuesday evening.

It was a messy match at times with both teams dropping the ball but the Aussies did enough damage on the scoreboard when it mattered most.

Australia U20 only held a slender lead in the second half before fullback Shane Wilcox scored his second try of the contest. The Aussies were awarded a penalty try late on which also proved decisive.

The Junior Springboks scored with a couple of minutes left to play but it was too late. With time on the Aussies’ side, they held on for a tough win in front of their home fans at Sunshine Coast Stadium.

Here are some takeaways.


South Africa beat arch-rivals New Zealand to win last year’s Rugby World Cup final at Stade de France. It was a thriller, and the All Blacks definitely had their chances, but the record will forever show that the Springboks went back-to-back.

Later this year, the Junior Springboks will look to follow in the footsteps of their rugby heroes by becoming world champions in their own right. South Africa will host the best young men’s rugby talent in a tournament from June 29 to July 19.

That tournament is still just under two months away but at the moment the Junior Springboks don’t look like genuine contenders. Northern hemisphere powerhouses England, Ireland and France are to be feared, and New Zealand will likely be in the mix as well.

South Africa drew with New Zealand 13-all in the opening round of the inaugural U20 Rugby Championship on Thursday, and again had another frustrating performance against hosts Australia on Tuesday.

The Aussie dominated possession and territory but squandered multiple chances. They should’ve scored more points against South Africa and probably should’ve.

But Australia were still good enough in the end.

The second-round defeat means that South Africa are last on the ladder with just one match yet to play. Australia, Argentina and New Zealand have all won at least one match so far.

With the likes of JF van Heerden and Jurenzo Julius among their ranks, this team has the talent and potential to be a lot better, but they’re not quite there yet.

The Junior Springbok still have time to grow their game but at the moment they don’t look like genuine contenders to take out the World Rugby U20 Championship on home soil later this year.



The Junior Wallabies had no choice, they had to put in a performance that they could be proud of against South Africa. After a disappointing defeat to Argentina last time out, coach Nathan Grey made mass changes as the Aussies looked to bounce back.

Australia U20s were met with a cheer as they took the field at Sunshine Coast Stadium, and 40 minutes after their clash with South Africa U20s got underway, the tournament hosts took a hard-earned lead into the half-time sheds.

Junior Springbok Mbasa Maqubela was shown a red card midway about 20 minutes in so the Aussies had the numeral advantage for the remainder of the first half. But Australia’s much-improved performance was about more than the Boks’ poor discipline.

Before Maqubela was sent off, Australia dominated the territory battle by keeping what seemed to be the entire first quarter down South Africa’s end of the field. The Aussies also made their presence known with some heavy collisions in defence.

Then, once Maqubela’s infringement was initially shown a yellow under review from the TMO, South Africa U20s looked better – or certainly more desperate and threatening in attack.

But the Aussies showed some great character and resilience. Three minutes after conceding, Australia U20s hit back through Shane Wilcox.

“Definitely a lot better than the first game,” Australia’s Jack Harley said at half-time on Stan Sport.

“We just need to try and convert, especially with that red card, in the second half.

“We’ve just got to hold the ball on… hold the ball and we’ll score. We’ve got some weapons out wide so just hold the ball as forwards and we’ll get it out to them.”

The Aussies were either landing big blows or, when South Africa did take an element of control, they refused to go down during a promising first-half performance.

They deserve credit for that. It’s a step in the right direction, and they have the chance to be even better in their third match of the tournament – which leads into the next point.



Joey Fowler and Cullen Gray are both solid, reliable and exciting playmakers with bright futures ahead of them. Fowler started in the No. 10 jersey against Argentina while Gray was handed a start for the clash with South Africa.

But, with a highly-anticipated clash with arch-rivals New Zealand now just a matter of days away, the Junior Wallabies have been handed a significant boost.

Earlier on Tuesday,  the Junior Wallabies confirmed that Queensland Reds playmaker Harry McLaughlin-Phillips has joined the squad and will be available for Sunday’s blockbuster.

McLaughlin-Phlilips wasn’t considered for Tuesday’s match after only just joining the squad, which is almost a bit of a shame. The Queenslander is one of the brightest rising stars in recent times for Australian rugby.

That’s how good he both is and can be.

McLaughlin-Phillips has six games of Super Rugby Pacific experience under his belt, which has included starts at flyhalf away to the Melbourne Rebels and Moana Pasifika. In those matches, the Queenslander looked right at home.

But before those two starts, the Queenslander turned heads with a breathtaking cameo off the pine against the then-undefeated Chiefs. McLaughlin-Phillips looked comfortable as a playmaker and also secured a match-winning turnover at the breakdown.

That’s actually quite stunning, let alone incredible for a flyhalf.

So, for the young talent to be returning to the Junior Wallabies’ set-up this week, will benefit this team immensely. They’ll be a more-threatening Australia U20s outfit with McLaughlin-Phillips on the field.

“I only found out I was coming up yesterday arvo,” McLaughlin-Phillips told “There was a bit of communication between Les (Kiss) and Greysie (Nathan Grey) after the game against the Crusaders. I was kept in the loop and headed up Monday.

“It’s great to be back with the boys, nice to do it up here at home. The family were there last week – they’ll be there tonight watching and supporting (against South Africa).”


South Africa sunned the rugby world last October by selecting a 7-1 split on the bench. It was a controversial decision that received either praise or criticism from fans and pundits alike, with practically everyone carrying an opinion on the matter.

But whether you love to hate it or hate to love it, the Springboks went on to win the Rugby World Cup. They named seven forwards on their bench for the decider against New Zealand and it ultimately paid off with Siya Kolisi hoisting the trophy.

Change can be scary and it’s a lot easier to follow the status quo, but daring to innovate can have a major upside and Australia U20s showed at least glimpses of a desire to do just on Tuesday evening.

Twice in less than about 10 minutes, hooker Otavio Tuipulotu decided to throw right to the front at lineouts. No, not a jumper, but rather the player standing closest to the sideline.

It’s something you see every once in a while, but to see it multiple times in such a quick period wasn’t just coincidence, it was strategy.

Tuipulotu found NSW Waratahs loosehead prop Jack Barrett with the first, and ended up going on a brief but exciting break down the left edge. The front-rower found Den Di Staso with a practically identical effort soon after.

Now, is this the same level of controversy or innovation as the 7-1 split? No, of course not, but it showed something unique to try it not once but twice.

For the Aussies, that’s an exciting insight to note ahead of their clash with New Zealand U20s and beyond into the World Rugby U20 Championship.


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