Final Test For Mark Jones’ Young Wales U20 Stars

The final examination of the term for Wales’s young rugby players is set to bring a number of new and challenging questions.

Mark Jones’ side face Australia in the fifth-place playoff on Friday (1pm UK time) in the U20 World Rugby Championship in South Africa.

Wales emerged with flying colours from their meeting with Georgia and their renowned maul in the ranking match in Paarl, played on a pitch that resembled a chocolate blancmange. Wales won 40-21 via a display that pleased the coaches.

But the young Wallabies have different strengths, including an ability to play a wide game.

In four games so far in the tournament, Australia’s wings have scored six tries, three of them from the impressive Darby Lancaster.

They also name the highly rated Queensland Reds playmaker Harry McLaughlin-Phillips at full-back against Wales. He has a reputation for being able to open defences, whether from No. 15 or fly-half, where he sometimes plays.

Wales at least know what’s coming.

“We’re expecting a much more expansive game,” said head coach Jones.

“Not that Georgia aren’t an expansive team, but the conditions in Paarl were quite difficult under foot and the ball was a little bit greasy, so we couldn’t move it into space.

“The pitch is going to be wider, drier and the weather prospects a bit better overhead. I think Australia will look to move the ball to the edge a lot more efficiently than Georgia, so they provide a different challenge.

“But I’m confident if we get the defence right like we did against Georgia, we can deal with it.”

Wales have attacking threats themselves, of course.

Their half-backs Archie Hughes and Dan Edwards have looked quite the part, with Edwards’ game-control against Georgia outstanding and Hughes never less than alert, while Louie Hennessey has been a strong-running centre, Lewis Lloyd a lively and industrious hooker and Morgan Morse to the fore every time he has taken the field.

Rare is the game when 18-year-old back-rower Morse doesn’t come up with something special.

Against Japan, he nailed down a Welsh victory with hard carrying that yielded tries, while against Georgia he stopped an opponent with a thudding tackle late on and somehow managed a turnover a split-second later despite being under ferocious pressure himself.

Plenty of positives for Jones, then.

That said, the Australia game will be a good yardstick for his side, who were mediocre against France, much better against Georgia and somewhere in between against New Zealand and Japan. They will want to improve their scrummaging.

The last match will help frame the verdict on the class of ’23.