Australia 39-21 Fiji: Wallabies fight back to win opening World Cup match
|2019 Rugby World Cup: Australia v Fiji|
|Australia: (12) 39|
|Tries: Hooper, Hodge, Latu (2), Kerevi, Koroibete Pens: Hodge Cons: Lealiifano, Tommua (2)|
|Fiji: (14) 21|
|Tries: Yato, Nayacalevu Pens: Volavola (3) Cons: Volavola|
Australia ran in four second-half tries as they fought back to beat Fiji in their opening 2019 World Cup match.
The 2015 finalists were trailing until halfway into the second half before hooker Silatolu Latu went over for two tries inside five minutes.
Peceli Yato's try gave Fiji an early 8-0 lead, and a shock looked possible when Waisea Nayacalevu scored under the posts early in the second half.
But Australia roared back to end fears of a first loss to Fiji since 1954.
The Wallabies' next outing in Group D is on Sunday, 29 September, when they face Wales in Tokyo.
Yato was outstanding, but was forced off after only 25 minutes with a head injury following a collision with Australia winger Reece Hodge.
Australia had looked to be finding their feet when Michael Hooper crossed for a try following Yato's opener, and after Hodge scored in the corner the teams went into half-time with Fiji leading 14-12.
But when Nayacalevu latched onto a loose pass on the halfway line to sprint home just three minutes into the second half, a shock Fiji win was a distinct possibility.
However, Latu's first international tries, both scored from line-outs, settled Australia nerves before Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete put the two-time World Cup winners comfortably clear.
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Wallabies regroup after early problems
With many under the roof at the Sapporo Dome supporting Australia, the atmosphere was subdued for much of the match. England will open their World Cup campaign just over a day later at the same venue when they face Tonga on a pitch that is rolled into the stadium.
Australia were loose at times during the frenetic opening phase, when Fiji were also able to take advantage of Australia's mistakes through the boot of Ben Volavola, who landed three first-half penalties.
And that sloppiness as Australia tried to attack led to Nayacalevu's breakaway score, but the Wallabies regrouped impressively and two controlled drives from line-outs allowed Latu to put his side ahead.
Australia took a firm grip on the rest of the match, but Wales, who open their campaign against Georgia on Monday, will have seen plenty to interest them before the match in Tokyo.
Fiji can have hope for future
Having led 21-12 early in the second half, Fiji are certain to look back on this as an opportunity missed.
They started furiously, but ran out of steam and could not find an answer following Latu's one-two punch.
They were also hampered by the loss of Yato, and will be hoping the Clermont forward will be available again in the tournament.
It's only a short turnaround until they face Uruguay on Wednesday and then Georgia on 3 October but Fiji have the talent to win those matches and set up a potential quarter-final showdown against Wales in their last Group D game six days later.
Man of the match - Marika Koroibete (Australia)
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Australia coach Michael Cheika: "We're not looking for perfection, 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. 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."
Fiji coach John McKee: "Certainly we take a lot of positives from that game, we had Australia on the rails for 40 minutes and a portion of the second half.
"Some things went against us, penalties, the yellow card, we have got to close games out. You don't win Test matches by being able to play really well for 60 minutes.
"Losing Peceli Yato early in the game when he was having such an impact was a big loss for us."
- Australia are unbeaten in their past 18 games against Fiji (W17, D1); their last defeat coming in June 1954 when Fiji won 18-16.
- Michael Hooper has won 96 caps for the Wallabies, no other player in Test rugby has won as many before turning 28 - the Wallabies back row has missed just eight games for Australia since his debut in 2012.
- Australia had lost their most recent Rugby World Cup fixture - the 2015 final - and have avoided back-to-back defeats at the event for the first time since the 1987 tournament in which they were defeated in succession by France and Wales.
Australia: Beale; Hodge, O'Connor, Kerevi, Koroibete; Lealiifano, White; Sio, Latu, Alaalatoa, Rodda, Arnold, Pocock, Hooper (c), Naisarani.
Replacements: 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,
Replacements: Vugakoto, Mawi, Saulo, Ratuva, Voka, Matawalu, Veitokani, Goneva