David Pocock scored two tries as Australia clawed out a 28-13 win over Fiji in their Rugby World Cup opener in Cardiff on Wednesday.
The Wallabies led 25-3 three minutes into the second half following prop Sekope Kepu’s try, but they failed to get through a stern Fijian defense to claim a fourth try and the crucial bonus point.
England did claim the bonus point against Fiji thanks to a last-minute try at the tournament opener at Twickenham, while Wales, the other “pool of death” heavyweight, got the extra point after a dominant win over Uruguay.
Australia chose to play a dynamic game with Pocock and Michael Hooper starting in the back row to put Fiji on the back foot, but not before losing wing Waisea Nayaclevu to injury barely five minutes into the first half.
But it was the Wallabies’ continued pressure that paid dividends as Bernard Foley kicked a penalty to give his side the early advantage, while the South Sea Islanders could barely advance into their opponents’ twenty-two.
A well-aimed kick from Ben Volavola, who opted for the corner rather a drop-goal, almost had Fiji running in for a try, but Israel Folau climbed well to prevent replacement Asaeli Tikoirotuma from making use of the opportunity.
Fiji had a shot at redemption, however, after Australia infringed and Nemani Nadolo landed a penalty to draw them level.
Nadolo was then fortunate to escape a yellow card for a high-tackle, but the sense of relief did not last after Pocock crashed over for a try and Foley stepped up for the conversion.
A bad situation grew worse for Fiji when prop Campese Ma’afu was sin-binned for kicking the ball away at the base of the ruck and Pocock returned with his rolling maul to drive the ball over the line.
The only consolation for Fiji was the missed conversion by Foley.
Australia returned in the second half determined to add to their 18-3 halftime lead and sure enough, within three minutes of the restart, had a further seven points after a dropped tackle by Fiji’s Telemaitoga Tuapati allowed Kepu to score his side’s third try and Foley to convert with success.
But Fiji remained resolute in the face of adversity, and while Nadolo landed another penalty to reduce the deficit, the rest of the backs pressured Australia with superior running ability.
Despite already playing against hosts England only days before, Fiji showed no signs of tiring, and Volavola skirted past Australia’s forwards Rob Simmons and Kane Douglas a few minutes later to score a try between the posts, which Nadolo converted.
The Wallabies responded with a successful penalty to comfortably stay ahead, but all hopes of a fourth try, and so the bonus point, were dashed when centre Tevita Kuridrani was yellow-carded in the final ten minutes, and both sides played for time.
Image Credit: PA Sport