Wallabies survive resilient Japan
MATCH REPORT: Australia have opened their four-match spring tour with a scratchy and hard-earned 32-23 victory over Japan in Oita.
The Wallabies overcame the early loss of fullback Reece Hodge and some stubborn resistance from the truly Brave Blossoms to chalk up five successive Test wins for the first time since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
While never really looking like losing, the Wallabies struggled the shake off international rugby’s biggest improvers and had to hold on in the tense closing minutes as Japan narrowed the deficit to just four points with a valiant second-half rally.
After having a hand in three of Australia’s five tries, veteran playmaker Quade Cooper made way late for Australian rugby’s fellow prodigal son James O’Connor, who coolly guided the Wallabies home on Saturday.
All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens likened the Brave Blossoms, under the coaching of Jamie Joseph and his assistant Tony Brown, to New Zealand’s Highlanders and they certainly put the Wallabies under pressure with an up-tempo style.
🔥 Vintage Quade
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Australian forwards James Moore, Ben Gunter and lineout weapon Jack Cornelsen all impressed as the Brave Blossoms also disrupted the Wallabies at the breakdown.
After clinging to a four-point lead at halftime, two tries in eight minutes from Wallabies power forwards Taniela Tupou and Rob Leota shot Dave Rennie’s team out to a 27-13 advantage.
But when Brave Blossoms centre Ryoto Nakamura swooped on Cooper’s long ball for a runaway intercept try in the 56th minute and added the extras, then a penalty, suddenly the Wallabies were under the pump.
It wasn’t until replacement hooker Connal McInerney crashed over in the dying stages were they safe from a historic first-ever loss to Japan.
Australia had opened the scoring with a try to wing Tom Wright in the seventh minute following a nice step and offload from Cooper.
Cooper’s long ball also set up the Wallabies’ second try to Jordan Petaia, a 14th-minute replacement for Hodge, who was forced off with a worrying looking shoulder injury.
The injury could place Hodge in doubt for the Wallabies’ remaining three Tests in Europe against Scotland, Eddie Jones’ England and Wales.
Tries: Nakamura, Lemeki
Cons: Tamura, Matsuda
Pens: Tamura, Matsuda 2
Tries: McInerney, Leota, Tupou, Petaia, Wright
Cons: Cooper 2
Japan: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Lomano Lava Lemeki, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryota Nakamura, 11 Siosaia Fifita, 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne (captain), 6 Ben Gunter, 5 James Moore, 4 Jack Cornelsen, 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Michael Leitch, 20 Tevita Tatafu, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Dylan Riley.
Australia: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Rob Leota, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Alan Alaalatoa, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 James O’Connor, 23 Jordan Petaia.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Takehito Namekawa (Japan), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)