Wallabies coach Michael Cheika isn’t fussed by bonus World Cup points, just relieved his side opened their campaign with a hard-fought win over Fiji.
Australia were pushed hard at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Wednesday night, but had enough class to prevail 28-13 thanks to two tries from David Pocock.
Showing signs of rust, the three-try triumph fell short of delivering the valuable bonus point, leaving them third in the ‘Pool of Death’ behind England and Wales who both secured the four-try bonus point in their first-up wins.
Not that Cheika was concerned.
“I’m new to Test footy, right, and international rugby, but for me, winning a Test match, that’s all you need to do and then move on to the next one,” he said.
“…It’s not Super Rugby – this is a World Cup.”
Pool A is the most competitive in the tournament – and every point could be the difference.
But Australia spurned a terrific chance to push for a fourth try when given a penalty when on the attack with 10 minutes remaining.
Holding on to a 12-point lead, the Wallabies instead opted for the boot of Bernard Foley, who kicked his third penalty.
To go with his two earlier conversions it gave Foley a 13-point haul from six kicks and, importantly, a victory.
“What I do know is that if you lose a game, you’ll be in strife,” Cheika said.
More likely to bring a smile to Cheika’s face was the continued success of his strategy to start both of his brilliant openside flankers, Pocock flourishing in his role as the team’s No.8 to be crowned man of the match and Michael Hooper having a solid game.
“It’s a huge honour. You grow up as a kid watching the World Cup and to be here, I’m really proud to be a part of this Wallabies team,” Pocock said.
Less convincing was Australia’s work at the set piece – with both the scrum and lineout leaving plenty of room for improvement.
The Wallabies’ scrum copped an early black eye after buckling in the face of its first test, but improved to provide a good platform.
It told the story of the match, with the Wallabies never truly troubled after Pocock’s two-try blitz led them to an 18-3 half-time advantage – but never able to pull away from the vastly-improved tier-two nation.
Prop Sekope Kepu looked to put the result beyond doubt early in the second half when he powered through some feeble defence to crash over next to the posts, but a resilient Fiji hit back through the pair of former NSW Waratahs backs.
Fly-half Ben Volavola scored a superb solo try with a 20-metre run to the line and winger Nemani Nadolo kicked a penalty and conversion to pull within 12 points.
The world’s No.9-ranked team continued to push until the final whistle, while Australia held firm in defence but began to look like a side that had played only one Test match – against the United States – over the past six weeks.
“It was a really good workout for us. It was physical,” Cheika said.
“I think you could see, at a certain stage there in the second half, that it was our first game in a while – guys were blowing a bit.
“But that’s exactly what we needed.”
There was concern for bench prop James Slipper, who was forced off with concussion following a heavy head clash just minutes after taking the field.
Cheika would’ve been heartened, however, by the sight of the Reds skipper walking off unaided, but less so by a yellow card to centre Tevita Kuridrani.
Slipper has been pencilled in for the starting line-up against Uruguay in Birmingham on Sunday, with Cheika set to field an entirely new starting XV.
Cheika suggested Toby Smith would take Slipper’s place at loosehead prop should he fail to recover in time.