September 21, 2019 / 9:03 AM / a month ago

Rugby-Fiji let Australia off the hook, says coach McKee

SAPPORO, Japan, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Fiji had Australia on the ropes in their World Cup opener on Saturday but unless they learn how to close games out they will struggle to find success at test level, coach John McKee said after watching his side go down 39-21 at the Sapporo Dome.

Fiji have not beaten the Wallabies since 1954 but looked on course to deliver a huge shock in their Pool D match after tries from Peceli Yato and Waisea Nayacalevu, and 11 points from the boot of Ben Volavola, helped them to a 21-12 second-half lead.

However, a combination of injuries and indiscipline, coupled with some tighter, safer play from the Australians, shifted the momentum away from Fiji.

Hooker Tolu Latu scored a brace of tries either side of a yellow card to Fiji’s Levani Botia and the Wallabies then took full advantage of the extra man, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete touching down to put the game away.

McKee said there was much to be pleased about in Fiji’s performance.

“Certainly we take a lot of positives from that game, we had Australia on the rails for 40 minutes and a portion of the second half,” he told a media conference.

“Some things went against us, penalties, the yellow card, we have got to close games out.

“You don’t win test matches by being able to play really well for 60 minutes.”

McKee said he had not seen any replays of Australian winger Reece Hodge’s no-arms tackle that made contact with the head of flanker Yato, who had to leave the field and did not return after failing a head injury assessment.

“Losing Peceli early in the game when he was having such an impact, losing him to a concussion was a big loss for us,” said McKee.

Fiji captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu said the mood in the dressing room was still upbeat.

“It was very disappointing, the end result. But it’s just the first game, we still have three more matches to go,” he added. “The boys are still in high spirits and were focusing on the next game.”

Waqaniburotu said they gave away too many penalties in the second half, which put them on the back foot.

“We lost a little bit of discipline which cost us a lot of ball in the second half,” he added. “There was a lot of possession by the Australians, we were defending a lot in the second half which caused us to give away penalties.”

Fiji next face Uruguay in Pool D on Wednesday, while Australia meet Wales a week on Sunday, and McKee said there was still all to play for with two teams to go through to the quarter-finals.

“I think we’re still right in this tournament,” he added. “We’ll be watching with interest to see how Australia and Wales go.” (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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