Wallabies open new season with dominating win over Fiji
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Fullback Israel Folau ended a year-long scoring drought in test matches with two tries as Australia beat Fiji 37-14 on Saturday in the home side’s 2017 rugby season opener.
The Wallabies have often had difficulty in season-opening matches, losing to Samoa in 2011 and Scotland in 2012 at home. But they made no mistakes in this match, dominating from the outset when Folau scored his first try in the third minute and winger Henry Speight added another seven minutes later — his first of two on the day — to give Australia an 18-0 lead at halftime.
Folau’s second try came in the 55th minute. Replacement hooker and regular captain Stephen Moore scored the other Wallabies try.
Vereniki Goneva and Timoci Nagusa scored second-half tries for Fiji.
The last time 28-year-old Folau crossed for a try for the Wallabies was last June against England.
Australia got off to a fast start with Folau scoring after Bernard Foley nailed a cross-field kick. However, the Wallabies lost their edge when Folau was yellow-carded for an accidental high shot on Fiji flanker Naulia Dawai in the 20th minute.
Australia prevented the Fijians from scoring, but didn’t manage to cross themselves again until Folau’s second try 15 minutes into the second half.
Fiji created plenty of chances, with lock Leone Nakarawa, who was part of its gold medal-winning Olympics sevens team, causing plenty of opportunities. But too often a pushed pass and some scrambling defense from the Wallabies saw an attacking raid fall short.
Moore’s try came after a Wallaby maul from a lineout five meters from the touchline, while Speight grabbed his second try after the full-time siren sounded.
“Really happy with the guys, the intent was really strong but it was a performance that was indicative of a six-day preparation,” Australia captain Michael Hooper said. “We probably left two or three (tries) out there. The Fijians’ offload game was pretty hard to deal with at times.
“I was really impressed with some of our defense in the first half, keeping them to zero was pleasing.”
Karmichael Hunt, who has played 11 rugby league tests for Australia and also two seasons in Australian Rules football, made his rugby debut for Australia.
Playing out of position at inside center, Hunt played strongly and his tackle count was second-best among the Wallabies on the night.
Australia next plays Scotland in Sydney next Saturday and Italy in Brisbane on June 24.
Australia 37 (Israel Folau 2, Henry Speight 2, Stephen Moore tries; Bernard Foley 3 conversions, 2 penalties), Fiji 14 (Vereniki Goneva, Timoci Nagusa tries; Ben Volavola 2 conversions). HT: 18-0.