Early game plan wide of mark be­fore nar­row fo­cus pays off

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - RACING - IN SAP­PORO

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.

NER­VOUS START

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.

BAD DE­CI­SIONS

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.

BET­TER COM­PO­SURE

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.

STRONG SUP­PORT

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.

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