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MATCH REPORT: Wallabies secure fifth straight win in hard-fought contest with Japan

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Editor
23rd October, 2021
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The Wallabies have fought off a dogged challenge from a gallant Japan outfit, with debutant Connal McInerney coming off the bench to score the decisive late try in a 32-23.

McInerney was patient and strong at the back of a maul that powered over the try-line to put the match beyond doubt in the final minutes.

When they were switched on, the Wallabies looked to be clearly the better side, but frequently let themselves down with casual ball use and poor discipline. The Brave Blossoms, in fairness, played a daring brand of rugby all day and caught Australia out a few times with some inventive play – but Dave Rennie will have plenty to address ahead of next month’s European Tests.

Still, with the win, the Wallabies secured their first overseas win in a Test since defeating Georgia in the 2019 World Cup group stage, while also winning five consecutive matches for the first time since their charge to the 2015 World Cup final. It was the first time they have achieved that outside of a RWC season since 2008.

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The Wallabies had a good amount of the ball and territory early, but the Japanese defence held firm and were keen to pounce on their opportunities – taking their lineouts very quickly and trying cheeky kicks to catch Australia unaware.

There was barely a stoppage inside the first five minutes until hooker Folau Fainga’a went down with an apparent ankle injury. Despite laying on the ground for some time, under heavy medical attention, he was able to continue after receiving some heavy strapping.

Coming into the match with the wind of a four-game winning run at their backs, the newly confident Wallabies were keen to throw the ball around and try some flashy no-look passes – but they were lucky not to be punished for their casual approach thanks to repeated Japanese penalties.

Wallabies fans almost had Bledisloe Cup flashbacks after a long pass was nearly picked off, but they were breathing easier almost immediately when a silky inside ball from Quade Cooper put Tom Wright through the defence and over for the first try.

Australia nearly let Japan reply immediately after a Nic White error gave the Brave Blossoms good territory, but a bizarre passage of play – that saw both teams throw back-to-back intercept passes – defused the threat.

Dave Rennie was forced to make an early substitution, with Reece Hodge coming from the ground gingerly with a pectoral injury and Jordan Petaia joining the action early.

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Rikiya Matsuda put the home side on the board soon after with a penalty goal after Andrew Kellaway was pinged for not releasing.

From there, Japan were actually able to maintain a fair bit of possession and territory – but only really came close to crossing the try-line once.

The Wallabies eventually got the ascendancy back and some good transition off the maul from sideline to sideline found the early sub Petaia in space to score the game’s second try with ease.

But this time, the home side were able to respond immediately. Izack Rodda got it wrong off the restart, giving Japan great field position. But full credit went to Matsuda for a very clever kick from the middle of the field that hit Lomano Lemeki on the chest near the sideline. He put in a great step to evade his opponent Wright and put the ball down for a great try.

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The try seemed to throw the Wallabies as their play lipped away. They were guilty of wasting possession with rushed and inaccurate passes, while also gifting the Brave Blossoms territory and extra phases with poor discipline.

Matsuda trimmed the margin to a point with a second penalty goal and it was the home side who looked by far the most likely to score again before the first half was out.

The Wallabies were able to hold firm, however, and managed to extend their advantage to four points with a Cooper penalty goal just before the whistle.

Whatever Rennie said in the sheds obviously worked, with some great ball movement off the lineout and a ripping run from Taniela Tupou giving the Wallabes an important early try to extend the lead to 22-13.

Hunter Paisami was almost over a few minutes later and, although he wasn’t able to score, replays showed the tackle that forced him out of touch was a dangerous one – putting Japan’s first-half hero Lemeki in the bin.

Australia were able to take the advantage soon after with the best try of the game to that point. Petaia did well to keep an errant pass to the sidelines in bounds, Len Ikitau broke through the defence with a quick pick-up and dart down the sideline, White put in a clever kick and chase before winning his own ball, before a long, no-look flick pass by Cooper found several unmarked Wallabies on the absent Lemeki’s wing.

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They could’ve raffled the try with all the numbers they had, with Rob Leota pulling the winning ticket and crossing to extend the lead to 14.

But just as it looked like the Wallabies were pulling away, they gifted Japan another try with what’s becoming a worrying trademark – an intercepted pass.

Cooper was the culprit with a long, looping ball into the middle of the park and Ryoto Namakura was the beneficiary, pouncing on the bad pass and crossing under the posts unopposed to halve the deficit.

Japan were once again buoyed by their progress on the scoreboard and had control of the play for most of the second half. The Wallabies were feeling the pressure and gave away penalties to keep the pressure on themselves.

Cooper, who’d already missed two conversions, hit the post with a penalty kick – but Matsuda made no such mistake at the other end a few minutes later to trim the deficit to four once more.

But Australia were able to defend resolutely and keep the home side at bay. A crucial penalty won in attacking territory with three minutes on the clock looked to have sealed the deal, before McInerney completed the dream debut with the decisive try.

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Full time

Japan – 23
Australia – 32

Tries

Japan: Lemeki 27′, Nakamura 57′
Wallabies: Wright 8′, Petaia 23′, Tupou 44′, Leota 51′, McInerney 78′

Conversion Goals

Japan: Matsuda 2/2 (27′, 57′)
Wallabies: Cooper 2/4 (9′, 24′), O’Connor 0/1

Penalty Goals

Japan: Matsuda 3/4 (16′, 32′, 57′)
Wallabies: Cooper 1/2 (41′)

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