SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - A come-from-behind 39-21 victory over a fast-starting Fiji was far from perfect but it gave Australia a bonus point and something to build on as they head into a potential pool-winning clash with Wales next week, said coach Michael Cheika.
The Wallabies were 21-12 down early in the second half of their Pool D opener at the Sapporo Dome on Saturday and seemingly unable to switch gears against a fired-up Fijian side.
The introduction of replacement scrumhalf Will Genia, however, changed the momentum and allowed the Wallabies forwards to seize control of the game with two quick tries to hooker Tolu Latu putting it beyond Fiji’s reach.
“We’re not looking for perfection,” Cheika told reporters. “It never happens in this game. We got tested.
“I think they got us a bit on the hop early on. They came out with some real aggression and we didn’t get into our rhythm or flow.
“Once we got back to basics it was a good contest.”
Cheika added that he felt the match under the roof in Sapporo had been eerily similar to their 2015 World Cup opener in Cardiff, when they also played Fiji.
“Maybe the score wasn’t the same but the momentum was pretty similar,” he said. “We were prepared for a strong contest and knowing that we would try and get ahead in the last 20 minutes. We know how good the Fijians are.”
Cheika acknowledged his side had struggled early in the second half to stop the Fijian’s momentum especially after a Waisea Nayacalevu try gave the Pacific islanders a nine-point advantage and threatening a boilover.
“No-one intends to go behind and play loose,” he said.
“It’s just the nature of the game. There are two teams on the field and they came at us.
“You have to always respect your opponent and ... try and impose yourself on them.
“They imposed themselves on us.”
The Wallabies ended up scoring six tries and earned a bonus point from the victory, which could be important in determining the outcome of the winners of the pool.
The two-time World Cup winners face Six Nations champions Wales in Tokyo on Sept. 29, with the match now likely to determine the outcome of Pool D.
The winner of the pool will probably avoid England, who are expected to win Pool C, in the quarter-finals.
“A good start,” Cheika said of the ramifications for the pool phase of the tournament.
“Pretty sure we were able to get a bonus point as well and I think that’s pretty positive in terms of the context of the next game.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Tom Hogue