A two-try cameo off the bench from winger Mark Nawaqanitawase was the eye-catching gloss to an impressive Australia A win in Tokyo tonight.
The A team’s 34-22 victory stunned a Japan XV bristling with Test players and the 27,000 fans at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
The full house in the packed stands elevated the whole match environment and raised the stakes for Australia A.
The Australia A side had impressive high performers. Lock Nick Frost, backrower Langi Gleeson, winger Suliasi Vunivalu, fullback Jock Campbell and hooker Lachie Lonergan all had excellent games while replacement winger Nawaqanitawase made a five-star impact with two tries in his 27 minutes.
The A team hit the Japanese with four second half tries and finished them with a 21-0 counter-punch after trailing 22-13 at the 54-minute mark.
Mark this down as a high-quality win.
Japanese World Cup coaches Jamie Joseph, Tony Brown and John Mitchell were in charge of a Japan XV with a strong vein of Test players.
Australian-born duo Jack Cornelson and Dylan Riley, who both play for the Saitama Wild Knights, were in the Japanese side led by backrower Michael Leitch, the 2019 World Cup standout who has played 75 Tests.
There were attacking signs from both sides in the first half even though the scoring was limited to Ryan Lonergan and Japanese flyhalf Hayata Nakao trading penalty goals.
The Japan XV led 9-6 at the break and 14-6 shortly after before the Australians clicked in the first of this three-game series
Hooker Lachie Lonergan darted through the line after locks Frost and Cadeyrn Neville had been responsible for two quick relays in the lead-up.
Flyhalf Ben Donaldson was alert all night. His cross kick to Vunivalu gave him a chance on the left touchline. More impressive was the one-Test Wallaby winger getting back into position to take a Ryan Lonergan pass on the shortside of a ruck. He twisted, spun and dotted down for the strikeback try.
Centre Hudson Creighton was pushed off in the lead-up to the fine Japanese try to Test finisher Kotaro Matsushima.
The Japanese played at speed and expertly off scrums and lineouts with creative set plays to get their up-tempo style rolling.
Flanker Brad Wilkin had just come on as a replacement when the Melbourne Rebel plunged over with his second touch in an excellent raid.
Vunivalu had again surged with strong post-contact metres in the lead-up. The Lonergan brothers combined to put Wilkin over.
Donaldson took on the line square and with purpose at the hour mark. He dummied to Nawaqanitawase inside who drew a defender. Donaldson dashed into space and weighted a kick ahead perfectly for the winger to chase and score.
The fun wasn’t over at 27-22. Frost was still powering on at the 72-minute mark with a neat pass on the blindside of a ruck that found that looming Nawaqanitawase.
The winger put on a quality in-and-away with a dummy to kick. He shed Matsushima and crossed for the try after a world-class finish.
Frost was terrific. His dexterity with offloads, his pace and his impact will decide a Test match in the 12 months ahead.
Campbell almost always beat the first defender with a shift of his feet and played with the confidence of a player ready to be tested with a Wallabies debut.
Gleeson was strong in contact and halfback Lonergan’s fine pass and five-from-five goalkicking were vital.
There will be a number of players from this side with valuable running in their legs for the Wallabies tour of Europe.
Coach Jason Gilmore was delighted with the win and the adaptability the Australia A side has had to find in four matches this season.
"All our opponents have played differently. The Fijians had a high offload game, it was power from the Samoans, the Tongans had something of both and the Japanese play fast and use the ball," Gilmore said.
"The games have been excellent for the group of players."
Gilmore said he was impressed with Nawaqanitawase's impact, having seen his growth from close range at the NSW Waratahs this year.
"He's had a really good year. His confidence is high, he's toughened up and he had a really good 20-or-so minutes to finish the game," Gilmore said.
“'Frosty' was really industrious. The week-to-week footy is really good for his development and he knows he has to keep working on his body height because he was a bit upright running in the first half."
Gilmore said he was "annoyed" at question marks being raised on whether smaller backs like Campbell might have the physical presence for Test rugby.
“Look at the size of fullbacks doing really well in rugby league. Obviously, you've got to have speed and evasion (if you are smaller framed) and he does."
AUSTRALIA A 34 (M Nawaqanitawase 2, B Wilkin, S Vunivalu try; R Lonergan 3 con, 2 pen goals, B Donaldson con) beat JAPAN XV 22 (K Matsushima, S Fifita try; H Nakao 4 pen goals)