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 ahead of 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.
Having started furiously, they 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)
- Australia are unbeaten in their last 18 games against Fiji (W17, D1); their last defeat to the Flying Fijians 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 Rugby World Cup 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
Australia survive scare to beat Fiji}