Familiar feeling for Fiji in testing opener for Cheika
Australia 39 Fiji 21
One day, a Pacific Island team is going to be the beneficiary of a bad refereeing decision. Until that day comes, we can add the failure to red card Reece Hodge to the list of injustices that Fiji have suffered at this tournament.
Even if late tries from Tolu Latu, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete gave the scoreline a flattering gloss, Fiji led for nearly an hour. It is impossible to consider that television match official Rowan Kitt's decision not to sanction Hodge for a no-arms tackle that concussed Peceli Yato did not change the course of the game.
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Not only were Fiji robbed off their best player as Yato failed a head injury assessment, but it prevented a clear try. On such decisions are tournaments decided.
As it was, Australia, who were second best in many departments, borrowed England's playbook from the early 1990s and turned the screw at the scrum and maul. Without any platform to play off, Fiji's magnificent backs could not inflict any more of the carnage they dished out in the first half.
Australia deserve credit for adapting to Fiji's threats. The addition of Will Genia and Matt Toomua from the bench made a big difference while flanker Michael Hooper was outstanding throughout.
The problem for Michael Cheika, the head coach, is that they are going to struggle to use their set-piece as a weapon during the rest of the tournament.
The sole area where the Wallabies were able to impose a degree of dominance was at the scrum and on 18 minutes that was the platform they used to drag themselves back into the game as Michael Hooper forced his way over. A Hodge try left it 14-12 in Fiji's favour at half-time.
"We're not looking for perfection," Cheika said later. "It never happens in this game. We got tested. I think they got us a bit on the hop early on. They came out with some real aggression and we didn't get into our rhythm or flow. Once we got back to basics it was a good contest."
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Cheika added that he felt the match under the roof in Sapporo had been eerily similar to their 2015 World Cup opener in Cardiff, when they also played Fiji.
"Maybe the score wasn't the same but the momentum was pretty similar," he said. "We were prepared for a strong contest and knowing that we would try and get ahead in the last 20 minutes. We know how good the Fijians are."
Scorers - Australia: Hooper, Hodge, Latu (2), Kerevi, Koroibete tries; Lealiifano 1 con; Toomua 2 cons; Hodge 1 pen. Fiji: Yato, Nayacalevu tries; Volavola 1 con, 3 pens.
Australia: Beale; Hodge, O'Connor, Kerevi, Koroibete; Lealiifano, White; Sio, Latu, Alaalatoa, Rodda, Arnold, Pocock, Hooper (c), Naisarani. Reps: Uelese, Slipper, Kepu, Coleman, Salakaia-Loto, Genia, To'omua, Haylett-Petty.
Fiji: Murimurivalu; Tuisova, Nayacalevu, Botia, Radradra; Volavola, Lomani; Ma'afu, Matavesi, Ravai, Cavubati, Nakarawa, Waqaniburotu (c), Yato, Mata. Reps: Vugakoto, Mawi, Saulo, Ratuva, Voka, Matawalu, Veitokani, Goneva.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe