Early game plan wide of mark before narrow focus pays off
AUSTRALIA’S World Cup campaign is still alive after they threatened to give long-suffering fans a heart attack by nearly tripping up at the first hurdle.
Outplayed and out-thought in the first hour by a Fijian team that got a huge lift from former Parramatta Eel Semi Radradra, the Wallabies developed a serious case of stage fright before they finally worked out what everyone else in the Sapporo Dome stadium and watching at home already knew.
As noble as it is that the Wallabies intend to play an expansive running game, the reality is they’re just not as good at it as they think and are more effective when they swallow their pride and take the more reliable direct approach.
The moment they did that against Fiji, the contest was as good as over as the floodgates opened and the Wallabies piled on 27 unanswered points to win their Pool D opener 39-21 and all but assure themselves of making the quarter-finals even before next week’s crunch match with Wales.
For a team that has just spent the best part of three months together, the Wallabies looked they were meeting each other on a Tinder date during a clueless start to the match.
Missed tackles, kicks, passes and opportunities — the Wallabies had the lot, and that was just inside the first 10 minutes.
Too many players got isolated and threw passes that weren’t on as the Wallabies tried to play Fiji at their own game, going wide too often too early when what they needed to do was build some pressure.
It was the Pacific Islanders, better known for their improvisation than patience, who played the smarter rugby, opening the scoring with a penalty then bagging the first try when Peceli Yato crashed through some poor tackling.
Down 8-0 after 23 minutes, the penny finally dropped for the Wallabies and they started attacking from closer in.
Michael Hooper forced his way through then Reece Hodge dived over after another sustained build-up to cut the margin to 14-12 at halftime.
A poor pass from Samu Kerevi gifted Fiji a 21-12 lead when Waisea Nayacalevu ran away to score but that was the last brain explosion from the Australians for the match.
Tolu Latu was the recipient of two tries off the back of rolling mauls that earned him man of the match, while Kerevi made up for his earlier blunder with a try and Marika Koroibete touched down out wide.
The Wallabies might be on the nose with the rugby-loving public back home with few fans bothering to go to their matches these days, but they turned out massive numbers in Japan.
The stadium was a sea of gold jerseys as thousands of Wallabies supporters made the trip to Japan, all relieved after the team’s escape.
Head coach Michael Cheika faces some tricky decisions before next week’s clash with Wales, with several starting players underperforming and all the kickers having problems. Those who came off the bench played strongly to push their claims for a starting spot.