Pone problem sours Australia A fightback in 15-try shootout in Japan

Fri, Oct 14, 2022, 8:46 PM
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
A tour-threatening hamstring injury to powerful Wallabies prop Pone Fa’amausili took gloss from Australia A’s 15-try shootout in Osaka tonight.  Photo: Getty Images
A tour-threatening hamstring injury to powerful Wallabies prop Pone Fa’amausili took gloss from Australia A’s 15-try shootout in Osaka tonight.  Photo: Getty Images

A tour-threatening hamstring injury to powerful Wallabies prop Pone Fa’amausili took gloss from Australia A’s 15-try shootout in Osaka tonight. 

The fighting qualities from the Australian outfit had to be admired even in a high-scoring 52-48 loss because time and again they rallied when behind for the whole match. 

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The men in gold scored eight tries to seven as the tempo of the clash in perfect conditions more resembled a frantic T20 cricket match. 

Two-try flanker Brad Wilkin, experienced lock Ned Hanigan and winger Mark Nawaqanitawase all excelled. Replacement halfback Ryan Lonergan sparked the second half comeback with his smart service, Dylan Pietsch showed his finishing ability with two tries, prop Tom Robertson never stopped and fullback Tom Banks booked his Wallabies tour to Europe with an alert 80 minutes and excellent kicking.  

Fa’amausili limping off after 20 minutes may ruin his shot at a European tour with the Wallabies. 

He was positioned at a ruck with legs spread for a jackal when his right leg was strained by a Japanese cleanout.  

It was a major shame because the giant prop had already stamped his 132kg imprint on the game with a powerful surge to the tryline after a clever front-of-the-lineout move for Australia A’s first try.     

With only two weeks until the Wallabies play their first Test in Europe against Scotland at Murrayfield early on October 30 (AEDT), he will certainly be sidelined for that. 

It’s only the fact the tour stretches to five Tests that coach Dave Rennie might consider still taking him so he’s fit again by mid-tour. 

The Japanese wasted no time in showing how desperately they wanted to win after blowing leads in the opening two games of the series. 

The home side scored at a point-a-minute to lead 28-7 before the fighting qualities of the Australians surfaced. 

Lock Ryan Smith stole a lineout and the A team pressured with two penalties that fullback Banks kicked to touch for 5m lineouts. 

From the second of those, hooker Lachie Lonergan plunged over at the back of a rolling maul for the first of his two tries. 

Better was to come with precise passing putting flanker Rory Scott into space for a sprint to the tryline. The final long ball from centre Hamish Stewart was a beauty under pressure. 

The scores tightened to 28-19 before the Japanese struck again on half-time for 35-19 with Test winger Kotaro Matsushima on the end of a slick chain of passing. 

“I’m very proud of the fightback in the second half. We could have rolled over but we got ourselves back into a position to win it,” second half captain Ryan Lonergan said of getting to 45-43 with 12 minutes to play. 

Lonergan said future tours to Japan at all levels would be beneficial to Australian rugby because “the way they approach the game is like nothing else.” 

Australia A coach Jason Gilmore elaborated when praising the catch-and-pass skills of the Japanese, their precise kick-offs and core skill development. 

Gilmore was delighted with how far former sevens player Pietsch has come this year. 

“He’s just improved every week. What you see is what you get. He runs hard and competes, wants to be the best and he’ll get you a turnover as an ex-backrower,” Gilmore said. 

Shifting Hanigan from the backrow to lock was productive. 

“Ned maybe wasn’t a fan but it brought him into the middle, rather than on the edge, where his high workrate, carries and breakdown skills were really productive,” Gilmore said. 

“Overall, the tour has been excellent on and off the field.” 

The A team had to rally from 42-19 down when the Japan XV’s Australian-born lock Jack Cornelsen scored just two minutes into the second half after impressive backrower Michael Leitch had flipped a kick-catch inside to him. 

A Wilkin pick-and-go try and another to finish off a Nawaqanitawase quick tap under the posts closed the gap to 45-31. 

A turnover on the hour mark became blindside gold when Ryan Lonergan fed the ball to the left. 

Hanigan’s over-the-top pass basketball-style found hooker Lonergan, who dashed 25m for the score and a tightened 45-38 game. 

Nawaqanitawase outplayed Suliasi Vunivalu on the wing with his superior rugby instincts and ability to get involved. 

On full-time with the game gone, Nawaqanitawase broke a tackle to force a gap no one thought existed. His kick ahead was expertly grabbed by centre Isaac Henry. The ball was recycled and spun to the other side of the field for the Pietsch finale. 

Vunivalu had excellent moments too in his 40 minutes with a lovely offload to No.8 Seru Uru, a pop ball and some surging metres. Being bumped off in defence for one try was less glorious. 

One lovely flat ball at the line from replacement Tane Edmed for the first Pietsch try was the best flyhalf play of the night but you have to sense that Ben Donaldson is further up the pecking order for a Wallabies tour.   

JAPAN XV 52 (T Tatafu 2, R Yamanaka, K Matsushima, D Riley, J Cornelsen, F Makisi tries; S Lee 6 con, pen goal, T Yamasawa con) beat AUSTRALIA A 48 (B Wilkin 2, L Lonergan 2, D Pietsch 2, P Fa’amausili, R Scott tries; B Donaldson 2 con, R Lonergan 2 con) 

Half-time: 35-19 Japan XV 

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