SAPPORO – Hooker Tolu Latu scored two tries in the second half to help Australia escape a historic upset by Fiji and win 39-21 on Saturday in the teams’ Rugby World Cup Pool D opener.
The Wallabies, who have never lost to Fiji since 1954 in any rugby union matches, trailed the Flying Fijians for the first 63 minutes when Latu crossed the goal line for the second time, making the score 25-21.
Australia’s early struggles were caused by miscues on passing and penalties that allowed the Fijians to possess the ball and pass it around.
Fiji established an early 11-0 lead on a penalty goal and a try by flanker Peceli Yato. Australia countered with a try by captain Michael Hooper and a successful conversion, but Fiji added two penalty goals en route to a 14-12 halftime lead.
“They’re such a dangerous team, we knew that very well,” Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said, according to AFP.
“It’s what we expected (but) we probably didn’t expect to be so far behind.
“We made a few errors that let them into it but we recomposed ourselves, went back to basics and were able to get it done.”
A lot of fans in yellow T-shirts among the crowd of 36,482 at Sapporo Dome, the first indoor site in Rugby World Cup history, rooted for the Wallabies, but the neutral ones started to cheer for world No. 9 Fiji, three spots lower than its counterpart, anticipating an upset.
Fiji, however, lost Yato, who sustained concussion-like symptoms in the first half and failed a head injury assessment.
Yato’s loss was felt especially when Levani Botia was sent to the sin bin in the 61st minute.
The Fijians then managed to score only a try and a conversion and the Aussies’ go-ahead try came against 14-man Fiji.
Australia scored 27 unanswered points and earned a bonus point for more than four tries (a total of six) as well as the winning points (four).
“It’s a fantastic match for us, after going down like that in the fashion we did,” Hooper was quoted as saying by AFP.
“Fiji really came out of the blocks, aggressive. They are big physical guys and they took it to us there.
“(I’m) really proud of our guys to regroup.”
Australia faces Wales on Sept. 29 at Tokyo Stadium while Fiji travels to Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, to meet Uruguay on Wednesday.