Wallabies earn gritty Test win over plucky Japan

The Wallabies have opened their four-Test spring tour with a scratchy 32-23 victory over Japan in Oita.

The Australians overcame the early loss of fullback Reece Hodge and some stubborn resistance from the Brave Blossoms to chalk up five successive Test wins for the first time since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Nevertheless, the Wallabies struggled to shake off the home side during Saturday’s Test and were forced to hold on in the tense closing minutes, as Japan narrowed the the visitors’ lead to four points with a valiant second-half rally.

However, the Wallabies responded, with replacement hooker Connal McInerney — making his Test debut — crossing for a try in the 78th minute.

The Wallabies had earlier clung to a four-point lead at half-time, but two tries in eight minutes from forwards Taniela Tupou and Rob Leota shot Dave Rennie’s team out to a 27-13 advantage.

The Brave Blossoms fought back, however, when centre Ryoto Nakamura swooped on Cooper’s long ball for a runaway intercept try in the 56th minute.

Nakamura’s try was converted and, following another penalty goal, the Brave Blossoms found themselves trailing 27-23, before McInerney’s late try sealed the Wallabies’ win.

“It was a really competitive game. Japan are just a side that are improving out of sight,” Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said.

“We expected Japan to play expansive rugby and they delivered on that. They tested us in a lot of areas and it was a very close game in the end.”

In the first half, the Wallabies had opened the scoring with a try to winger Tom Wright in the seventh minute following a nice step and offload from veteran fly-half Quade Cooper.

Cooper’s long ball also set up the Wallabies’ second try to Jordan Petaia, a 14th-minute replacement for Hodge, who was forced off with a worrying shoulder injury.

The injury could place Hodge in doubt for the Wallabies’ remaining three Tests in Europe against Scotland, England and Wales.

Having not played in three weeks since the conclusion of the Rugby Championship, Hooper said Saturday’s Test was the ideal build-up ahead of the three Tests in the UK.

“We haven’t played in a while, so it was a high-paced game,” he said.

“A lot of ball movement, a lot of tackles to be made and some long phases of play too.

“So it’s really good preparation for us.”


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