The Wallabies made hard work of it but have come away 39-21 winners over Fiji in their opening World Cup game in Sapporo. The Wallabies trailed 14-12 at half time against a very confident Fiji side but the injection of Will Genia after 50 minutes inspired a dramatic turnaround as they outscored Fiji 25 points to seven in the second half.
A double to Tolu Latu and tries to Michael Hooper, Reece Hodge, Marika Koribete and Samu Kerevi saw the Wallabies claim a bonus point but they certainly didn’t have it their way during the first half where Fiji’s defensive pressure and expansive play had the Wallabies under the pump.
Fiji seemingly toyed with the Wallabies defence as they racked up the missed tackles and turnovers won also allowed them to put the Wallabies on the back foot with the loose trio of Dominiko Waqaniburotu, Peceli Yato and Viliame Mata causing headaches for the Wallabies.
There were some positives for the Wallabies with David Pocock able to complete the full 80 minutes unscathed and the Wallabies scrum was very impressive and won a number of relieving penalties to get themselves out of trouble.
It was a nervy start from Fiji with a clearing kick charged down in the opening minute but they were able to settle and opened the scoring with a fifth minute penalty goal to Ben Volavola after Nic White was caught with the ball in his own 22.
That gave the Fijian’s the confidence they needed and allowed them to display their dangerous wide game and the Wallabies were caught in transition after some poor kicks and Peceli Yato linked up with Josua Tuisova down the right wing and Yato backed up to score the opening try for an 8-0 lead after as many minutes.
The Wallabies didn’t panic too much and tightened their game up and used the scrum as a way to earn some penalties to get them down the field. An attacking scrum in the Fiji 22 gave them another launch play and it was Wallabies captain Michael Hooper who burrowed over for the opening Wallabies try and Christian Lealiifano’s conversion made it 8-7 after 19 minutes.
The Fijian defence was putting pressure on the Wallabies with some big hits pressuring them into turnovers with Nic White not helped with protection at the back of the breakdown and this allowed Volavola to land his second penalty goal for a 11-7 lead.
The loose play of the Wallabies was playing right into the Fijian’s hands and the defence was having a real battle with Reece Hodge and James O’Connor in particular feeling the sting of the Fijian ball runners as they were being swatted away like flies.
A high shot from Izack Rodda gave Volavola another shot at penalty goal and he had his third penalty goal after 30 minutes to make 14-7.
On the back of a high shot penalty of their own the Wallabies made their way into the Fiji 22 and with some patient build up by the forwards, they drew in their opponents and that allowed some space out wide for Reece Hodge to score in the right corner. It was a well-earned try after the battering he’d received in the opening half on defence to leave the score at 14-12 at the break.
The Wallabies start to the second half wasn’t what coach Michael Cheika would have wanted as a backline move just in the Fiji half broke down with a loose ball swooped on by Fijian outside centre Waisea Nayacalevu and he outran the defence to score under the posts and the conversion made it 21-12.
The lineout of the Wallabies started to falter with two lineouts not secured with a poor lift and pick off by the Fijians nullifying any advantage the Wallabies had in an attempt to get back into the game.
Reece Hodge took over the kicking duties and his easy shot at penalty goal reduced the margin to six as the changes started to happen for the Wallabies with Will Genia on to add some much needed experience.
His box kick into touch gave the Wallabies good field position to setup and a number of penalties the Wallabies way in their own 22 incurred a warning for Fiji and then it was fourth time lucky as Tolu Latu rolled it over for the Wallabies third try .
That try seemed to spark the Wallabies and after a trademark run from Marika Koroibete down the left wing, the Wallabies were on the front foot in the Fijian half to put their opponents under pressure.
After Ben O’Keefe had earlier warned Fiji, they infringed again and it was Levani Botia who copped a ten minute rest and from the resulting lineout,Latu had bagged his double and suddenly made rolling mauls fashionable again.
With the Wallabies realising keeping it tight was paying dividends, they sucked in the defenders with patient play and Samu Kerevi was the next to get on the try scorers list and make it 17 points in about 20 minutes.
The Wallabies weren’t done there with Dane Haylett-Petty showing brilliant hands in a backline play and send Koroibete over to cap off a good week for him after signing a contract extension with Rugby Australia and the Melbourne Rebels as the Wallabies rounded out the 18 point win.
There would be plenty for Michael Cheika to digest during the review as the Wallabies look forward to playing Wales next week with a few selections up for grabs after a strong showing from the bench.
The Game Changer
Will Genia came on around the 50 minute mark and made an immediate impact as his composure and experience the Wallabies reduced their deficit from five points to a winning margin of 18 in his 30 minutes on the field.
The G&GR MOTM
It was a tough decision in the end as the Wallabies took their time to get into the game and eventually grind down their opponents. Samu Kerevi had a fantastic game against a strong defensive side with 17 runs for 73 metres and 10 defenders beaten. A shout to Marika Koroibete with a strong game with a try and 128 metres from 8 runs.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Latu 2, Hooper, Hodge, Kerevi, Koroibete
Conversions: Lealiifano, Toomua 2
Tries: Yato, Nayacalevu
Penalties: Volavola 3
61 mins – Botia (Fiji) – Yellow