Australia got their campaign off to a victorious start, but not before being given a massive fright by Fiji.
The Wallabies eventually won 39-21 in Sapporo on Saturday.
However, for the first hour, Fiji held the lead and looked good value for their advantage.
The game changed on the back of the Levani Botia yellow card just on the hour mark – New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe reaching into his pocket after he had moments earlier warned Fiji over repeated infringements close to their line.
During his time in the sin bin Silatolu Latu, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete scored tries to take the score from 20-21 to 39-21.
Fiji held a 14-12 lead at the end of a frenetic first half, in which Australia’s decision-making played into the hands of the Pacific Islanders.
Fiji dominated most of the opening half and would have been disappointed not to lead by more.
Australia’s go-to tactic was a rolling maul, and so it should have been. The pick-and-go also proved productive in the second half.
The Fijians clearly enjoyed the delirious and frenzied nature of the game.
The Wallaby scrum was also superior to the Fijian setpiece, winning them a crucial penalty when they were a man up.
Hooker Tolu Latu proved to be the unlikely hero with two tries for the desperate Wallabies.
Despite ultimately scoring six tries to two, there is plenty of work for Michael Cheika’s men to do before playing Wales next week after an error-riddled first half performance in which they had been bullied by the Fijians.
The turnaround was stark, as Australia took control of the tight exchanges, draining the energy from their opponents.
They dominated the last 35 minutes through adopting a more-conservative game plan.
Trying to match Fiji’s flair backfired badly early as the smaller Wallabies’ backs were man-handled or knocked over like tenpins.
Basic passing and attacking skills were abject at times and they struggled to put phase play together.
However, there were early hints of dominance at scrum time and in driving play, an advantage which had turned into a chasm by the end of the game.
It took until the 62nd minute to lead for the first time, when Latu notched the second of two tries in quick succession from line-out drives.
Fiji were 8-0 up inside eight minutes after Josua Tuisova busted through Reece Hodge’s tackle to set up a try to flanker Peceli Yato.
Australian forward muscle set up their first try to captain Michael Hooper but Fiji pushed clear again through two Ben Volavola penalties.
A decision to kick a penalty for touch rather than at goal paid dividends when Hodge crossed just before the break, put clear by neat passes from James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale.
Australia made a horrific start to the second spell when a loose Samu Kerevi pass was snapped up by midfield counterpart Waisea Nayacalevu, who galloped 50 metres.
Hodge’s penalty pulled the Wallabies back within sight before Latu powered over for his double, earning him man-of-the-match honours. That award could have gone to any of his tight-five colleagues, such was their influence on the game.
The backs eventually had their say, with Fijian-born pair Kerevi and Marika Koroibete taking advantage of a weight of possession.
Man of the match: Strong-running fullback was involved in all that was good about the Fijians, while flank Peceli Yato was good value before leaving the field with concussion. Michael Hooper and David Pocock were the busiest of the Wallaby forwards, while hooker Tolu Latu was good value for his two tries – to go with 10 carries, making all his tackles and doing the basics in the set pieces. He wins our award.
Moment of the match: The game turned dramatically on the yellow card issued to Levani Botia (Fiji) in the 59th minute – a 21-20 lead for the Pacific Islanders becoming a 39021 win for the Wallabies.
Villain of the match: No villains, despite some of the most brutal hits you will see.
Tries: Hooper, Hodge, Latu 2, Kerevi, Koroibete
Cons: Lealiifano, To’omua 2
Tries: Yato, Nayacalevu
Pens: Volavola 3
Yellow card: Levani Botia (Fiji, 59 – repeated infringements, killing the ball in the tackle)
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 David Pocock, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Dane Haylett-Petty.
Fiji: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Semi Radradra, 10 Ben Volavola, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Viliame Mata, 7 Peceli Yato, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu (captain), 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Tevita Cavubati, 3 Peni Ravai, 2 Samuel Matavesi, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Tuvere Vugakoto, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Tevita Ratuva, 20 Mosese Voka, 21 Nikola Matawalu, 22 Alivereti Veitokani, 23 Vereniki Goneva.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Luke Pearce (England), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
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