Australia escape Fiji power at World Cup opener | Sunday Observer

Australia escape Fiji power at World Cup opener

Australia’s centre Samu Kerevi goes through to score a try as Fiji’s wing Semi Radradra tries to tackle him
Australia’s centre Samu Kerevi goes through to score a try as Fiji’s wing Semi Radradra tries to tackle him

TOKYO AFP: France and Australia both survived huge scares on Saturday as the Rugby World Cup roared into life ahead of the heavyweight clash between defending champions New Zealand and South Africa.

A last-ditch penalty miss by Argentina’s Emiliano Boffelli spared France’s blushes as they scraped home 23-21, after Australia recovered from nine points down to beat a formidable Fiji 39-21.

The back-to-back thrillers on the first full day of action set up the much-anticipated clash between the All Blacks and the Springboks, considered a potential precursor of the November 2 final.

Kieran Read’s All Blacks are chasing an unprecedented third straight world title, but come up against a Springboks team in the ascendancy under coach Rassie Erasmus.

After a tense start in Tokyo, France clicked and they showed slick hands and brilliant running as Gael Fickou went over on the right and Antoine Dupont dotted down four minutes later.

The flawless boot of Romain Ntamack pushed Les Bleus out to a 20-3 lead at the break but Argentina came storming back with two near-identical catch-and-drive tries to Guido Petti Pagadizaval and Julian Montoya.

Benjamin Urdapilleta slotted two penalties to give Argentina a 21-20 lead but Camille Lopez’s cool drop goal put France back in front, and it was the unfortunate Boffelli who skewed his penalty narrowly wide.

Earlier in Sapporo, Fiji put in some thunderous hits and led 21-12 early in the second half before replacement scrum-half Will Genia inspired Australia’s recovery and bonus-point win.

Tolu Latu crashed over twice, and Samu Serevi and Marika Koroibete also crossed in the second half following scores by Michael Hooper and Reece Hodge in a helter-skelter first period. “They’re such a dangerous team, we knew that very well,” said Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. “It’s what we expected (but) we probably didn’t expect to be so far behind.

“We made a few errors that let them into it but we recomposed ourselves, went back to basics and were able to get it done.” The day’s most anticipated match will come when the All Blacks rumble into action against their fiercest rivals, a Springboks side which held them 16-16 when they last met in July.

Questions have been raised about the All Blacks, now without their long-time world number one ranking, and especially against South Africa after a total of just five points separated the teams in their last four games.

Both sides will also be keenly aware that no team has lost in the pool stages and gone on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

South Africa, led by their first black World Cup captain, Siya Kolisi, will play in shirts bearing an image of Chester Williams, the only black member of the Springboks’ 1995 World Cup-winning team who died this month at 49.

“From the opening match, the most important thing for us is clinching victory, the World Cup itself, so we’re confident,” Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa told AFP.

“It means a lot. A win for South Africa here in Japan is a victory for the whole of the country, especially in the project of uniting our people.” Also on Saturday, tournament organisers warned teams about possible disruption from an approaching typhoon and closed two fanzones in southwestern Japan as a precaution.