Rugby: Two-time champions Australia shaken but fight back to beat Fiji 39-21 at World Cup
SAPPORO, JAPAN (AP, AFP, REUTERS) – Australia avoided the first big upset of the Rugby World Cup when they rallied from 21-12 down to beat Fiji 39-21 in Pool D on Saturday (Sept 21).
"They're such a dangerous team, we knew that very well," said Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. "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."
Australia were rattled by an early try by flanker Peceli Yato and a 50-metre intercept try in the opening minutes of the second half by centre Waisea Nayacalevu.
But as Fiji appeared set for their biggest result at a Rugby World Cup, Australia regained composure.
Two tries in quick succession from rolling mauls by hooker Tolu Latu put Australia ahead for the first time in the 62nd minute, as the Wallabies finally found a way to neutralise Fiji's powerful and elusive running game.
Captain Michael Hooper and winger Reece Hodge had already crossed for Australia in the first half, but the 1991 and 1999 World Cup winners did not really have control until the final 30 minutes.
Then, Australia tightened up and exposed Fiji's maul to send Latu over twice in the space of five minutes.
Backs Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete, both born in Fiji, scored late to make it appear comfortable for Australia, who scored six tries in all and averted what would have been their most surprising defeat at a World Cup.
"It was a disappointing result at the end but I thought we played really well in the first half," Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu said.
"Just a lot of things we need to work on, like the discipline, which cost us a man in the second half.
"We did a bit well but we need to improve if we want to compete in this competition."
Australia have not lost to Fiji since 1954 and have lost only two pool games in their Rugby World Cup history. They have made at least the quarter-finals at every World Cup.
That pool-stage record was in major danger when Fiji winger Josua Tuisova rampaged down the right wing in the early exchanges, bursting through one tackle and fending off another, to set up the try for flanker Yato.
That score added to a penalty by fly-half Ben Volavola and gave Fiji a surprise 8-0 lead at the Sapporo Dome.
Australia recovered momentarily when Hooper drove over in the 18th and Christian Leali'ifano converted for 8-7.
Volavola kicked two more penalties but Hodge added a second try for Australia five minutes before half-time.
Fiji's powerful runners were bursting through tackles and knocking the Australians defence, and Australia were making error after error under pressure.