Wallaroos coach Dwayne Nestor said Grace Hamilton can develop into “one of the best players in the world” after the Aussie captain turned into another brilliant performance to lead her team to victory over Japan.
Hamilton scored a hat-trick in the Wallaroos’ 46-3 victory at North Sydney Oval, securing Australia’s second Test win - and first Test series - on home soil.
For the second consecutive week, Japan turned in a courageous performance but for the second week, Hamilton stood tall and claimed back-to-back player of the match awards.
Hamilton scored one the first of the Wallaroos’ four tries in the opening half, which gave the hosts a 27-3 halftime lead.
Japan kept a mounted a third-quarter rally but even down to 14 player for ten minutes, the Wallaroos’ defence held firm and with good bench impact, the home side ran in three more tries later; with two coming from the indefatigable Hamilton.
In the end, the NSW no.8 ran - captaining the team for the first time this series - for 204 metres; taking her two-game tally to a ridiculous 371 metres.
Asked about Hamilton’s game post-match, Nestor said: "What is there to say? Over 200 carry metres tonight, its her thing to carry the ball and carry it hard so we like to play to our strengths.”
"Grace loves to be challenged and we spoke about the captaincy and I wondered how it would affect her and I think it spurred her on.
"I think we are only seeing what Grace can do and there is probably more in her as well. I think we can continue to develop her game where she becomes world class, one of the best players in the world.”
But, showing all the diplomacy of a seasoned skipper, Hamilton refused to take any plaudits for her try-haul and mountainous run-metre stats post-game.
“I didn’t even know that but thank you for telling me,” Hamilton said.
"No, it’s a complete team effort as I have said before. I am just getting the ball off one of the other girls who has done the hard work.
"I was lucky, I was just in the right place at the right time. You know what? We set the platform, we had a little bit of handling errors but in the end we had momentum and that’s what we wanted to keep, momentum through the whole game.”
The Aussies proved too strong and had the game won by halftime.
But the dimuinitive Japanese were far from disgraced with an unrelentingly courageous performance.
The Sakura were outsized in height and weight not in heart and they rallied in the third quarter.
They and held Australia pointless and even laid siege to the Wallaroos’ line.
When Lori Cramer was sin-binned, the visitors almost scored as well but the ball was dropped over the line.
Australia’s reserves made an impact in the final 20 minutes, and the Japanese defence relented late, with Hamilton scoring another two and back row partner Millie Boyle also crossing.
Hamilton had scored early on with a long solo run, before Mahalia Murphy crossed for two tries via monster fends in traffic on both occasions. Murphy turned into another very strong performance.
In her first start, Cramer crossed with another bump off in the corner.
The winger was binned for a shoulder charge early in the second half and that gave the Japanese some momentum.
They couldn’t manage to cross, however, with the Wallaroos defence holding firm.
When Cramer returned, and the bench steamed into the game, the Aussies swept home.
Powerful runs by reserve Liz Patu helped the hosts get back into the Japanese half and Hamilton was in the right place at the right time for two more near-line scores.
Boyle capped a strong performance with a late try.
"That was pretty good,” Nestor said.
"Once again we got good go-forward through our carriers and we were able to captialise on that. In the change room before we came out the girls said let’s make a statement, and I think they did.
"They made a really good statement in that first half. Probably fell asleep for a little bit in that second half but then finished off quite strongly, which was good. I was particularly impressed with the defence.
With a two-Test series against New Zealand in three weeks time, the Wallaroos’ defence was the highlight for Nestor
"Being the defensive coach it is always nice to attain a goal. I challenged them at halftime to a goal to not let them score, let’s be ruthless with this. And they certainly had a crack at us for a time and it was pleasing to hold them out,”
"We were under pressure there but we worked a fair bit on our spacing in our defence and having the girls feel comfortable defending their channels and it showed tonight they were able to feel comfortable and be able to defend with confidence.
"We are certainly going to need that and with that comes the confidence to be able to play. We don’t want them to ever go in their shell. But when we face an opposition like the Black Ferns, we want confidence.
"That was great preparation for us. Really good preparation. You look at last year and you wish we’d had the same preparation before we went to the Black Ferns last year but to have that this year is awesome, and the program going forward next year is even better. Which is really good."
Hamilton said the challenge presented by Japan was a fantastic experience.
"Not even great preparation (for New Zealand, it was just a great contest. We are so lucky Japan came out here, we are so thankful, they’re such wonderful girls and they’re a great team,” she said.
"They’re building too, they’re in the same boat as us, they’re building toward the World Cup. They really stood up.”
Tries: Hamilton 3, Murphy 2, Cramer, Boyle
Cons: Cramer 4