MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Livewire fullback Israel Folau and winger Henry Speight each scored a brace of tries as Australia opened their season with a dominant 37-14 win over a gallant Fiji on Saturday.
Folau ended an 11-match scoring drought for the Wallabies dating back to last June’s internationals against England, while Speight proved the villain for the country of his birth, with his second and third test tries.
Dropped skipper Stephen Moore came on as a replacement to grab Australia’s other try, with wingers Vereniki Goneva and Timocui Nagusa crossing for the visitors late on a glorious afternoon at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
“I thought it wasn’t too bad, we won’t get carried away with it all though,” said coach Michael Cheika, whose Wallabies also host Italy and Scotland this month.
“I thought we worked hard in defence. They wanted to play, the lads, still going after the whistle. It was a good start but plenty to work on.”
Cheika had unveiled a new-look Wallabies side, with hooker Moore dropped to the bench in favour of Tatafu Polota-Nau, and two debutants in former rugby league international Karmichael Hunt and blindside flanker Ned Hanigan.
Away from his regular fullback position, Hunt enjoyed a solid debut as the second playmaker at inside centre, defending fiercely and linking well with his fellow backs in front of a disappointing crowd of 13,583.
Folau gave Australia the perfect start, soaring above Fiji fullback Kini Murimurivalu at the right corner to bring down a lofted Bernard Foley crosskick and score in the fourth minute.
Speight blew out the lead to 15-0 with his adopted country’s second try after quick hands set up the winger for a three-metre dash down the right touch-line.
Folau was sin-binned in the 19th minute for a high tackle but the Fijians were unable to take advantage, with a try to scrumhalf Nikola Matawalu cancelled out because Hooper had been obstructed.
Australia were also wasteful, with Foley botching a try opportunity with a poor pass after intercepting the ball and sprinting up field deep into the opposition 22.
The Fijians again missed a chance for points two minutes before the break, with Ben Volavola missing a shot at goal to send the Wallabies into halftime with an 18-0 lead.
The visitors almost suffered another body blow from one of their own when Tevita Kuridrani crossed at the right corner 10 minutes after the break but a video review showed the Fiji-born outside centre’s foot had clipped the touch-line.
Folau made no mistake at the same corner five minutes later, however, taking a neat, short pass from Foley at midfield and racing away from the Fijian cover defence.
The visitors finally scored in the 63rd minute when Goneva galloped through a gaping hole in the Wallabies defensive line to cross.
Their joy was short-lived, however, with Moore crashing over a few minutes later off the back of a rolling maul.
Winger Nagusa dived out of a ruck over the line to claim another try but the Pacific islanders suffered the final indignity when Speight scampered over in the right corner for the final try.
Editing by Nick Mulvenney