Australia smothered a ferocious comeback by Portugal to win their gripping first matchup 34-14 in the Rugby World Cup today.
The bonus-point victory kept alive the Wallabies’ faint quarterfinal hopes.
Their final Pool C match moved them into second place and the second quarterfinal spot, and they will have to stay in France for another week without another game guaranteed to wait to see if Fiji overtakes them.
Fiji is one point behind, and needs to take only one point against Portugal next Monday NZT in Toulouse to advance and send Australia home.
Portugal couldn’t put Australia out of their misery today but they warmed the hearts in a packed Stade Geoffroy-Guichard with their daring and style.
Os Lobos scored two tries and had two others ruled out. But, crucially, when Australia was reduced to 14 and 13 men after an hour, the Portuguese couldn’t finish numerous chances.
The Wallabies’ scramble defense stopped a lineout maul and forced two knock ons. Portugal finally earned a converted try from replacement No. 8 Rafael Simoes with 10 minutes to go but the effort exhausted them.
Australia showed its experience and clinical edge when Samu Kerevi came out of the sin-bin and his surge up the middle was finished by the enigmatic Marika Koroibete. Australia’s fifth try capped the scoring.
The Wallabies started the second half in control on the scoreboard at 24-7 and needed only minutes to bag the bonus-point fourth try to Fraser McReight.
At 29-7 down with the benches clearing, Portugal owned the next 20 minutes.
The pressure would send replacement hooker Matt Faessler to the sin-bin after repeated warnings against the Wallabies, followed soon after by Kerevi for forearming tackler Tomas Appleton in the head.
But Portugal couldn’t get its lineout maul to work, blowing three chances in four minutes.
They should have given the ball to the backs.
The Os Lobos underdogs had rewarded the crowd’s overwhelming favor by landing the first big punch in the 12th minute. Their scrum shoved the Australians back, Appleton straightened the attack and got back in line to throw a double miss-out pass to center partner Pedro Bettencourt to score untouched.
Samuel Marques hit the sideline conversion for another double cheer, but the match turned moments later.
Bettencourt was sin-binned for an upright head tackle on opposite Izaia Perese, and the Wallabies were ruthless with the man advantage.
Smashing carries by Angus Bell and Rob Valetini set up Richard Arnold to score beside the posts. Bell then won a scrum penalty, Ben Donaldson reeled off a 50-meter touch-finder and a lineout maul drove captain Dave Porecki across. A counterattack released Lalakai Foketi on the right wing and Koroibete and Bell charged over off ruck ball.
Three converted tries in six minutes rushed Australia from 7-3 behind to 24-7 in front.
A 50-metre break by Perese was spoiled by obstruction in a maul, then Portugal had a try rubbed off near halftime when fullback Andrew Kellaway tackled Nicolas Martins’ leg over the touchline before he touched down.
That scoring dropped off after the break but the second half was no less frantic.
Eddie Jones’ misjudged bluster about winning the tournament with a young squad died after consecutive defeats to Fiji and Wales over the last two weekends, but his Wallabies are alive until Saturday evening at least.
If, by then, Fiji has beaten Georgia with a bonus point in Bordeaux then Fiji joins Wales in the quarterfinals from Pool C and the Wallabies are shut out of the knockout stage for the first time ever. If Fiji loses to Georgia or doesn’t get a bonus point, it still has one more chance to make the quarters next week against Portugal.
In the meantime, the two-time champion Wallabies can cross as many fingers as they can to hex Fiji, and will know their fate before they complete their pool campaign on Sunday in a first meeting with the lively Portuguese.
Os Lobos have done their country proud for a team that was the 20th and last qualifier to make the Rugby World Cup, 16 years after its only other appearance.
A Wales second string was flattered to win by 28-8 and Os Lobos could have beaten rival Georgia but drew 18-18 last Saturday for its first World Cup points.
The Wallabies, following the dismal 40-6 defeat to Wales last weekend, have dumped centers Samu Kerevi and Jordan Petaia and replaced them with Waratahs pair Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese, who have a combined 13 tests but don’t feel out of place. They are between Waratahs mates Ben Donaldson at flyhalf and Mark Nawaqanitawase on one wing. Perese will make his first start in his second test.
“Foketi has trained well the whole tournament,” Jones said on Friday. “Samu has probably just been a little off. He’s had a tough run-in to the World Cup, coming back from an ACL, two hamstring injuries. He just hasn’t been as sharp as we’d like him to be.
“Jordy Petaia had a bit of a calf issue. He’s fit now but, again, with Izzy, he’s trained really well the whole World Cup.”
Fraser McReight has gone into the back row, and the reserves were freshened with Rob Leota, one-cap back-rower Josh Kemeny and two-cap scrumhalf Issak Fines-Leleiwasa.
Prop James Slipper will become the most capped Wallaby at a Rugby World Cup with his 21st game, leaving behind George Gregan.
The lineup confirmed squad captain Will Skelton and first-choice tighthead Taniela Tupou were still unavailable following their training injuries after the opening win over Georgia.
“A tough old week,” Jones said. “We trained the day after the (Wales) game because we wanted to get back out on the field.
“With the young players we thought we wanted to get their thoughts in their head about how we want to play against Portugal. We’ve got a clear plan.
“I think we’ve trained really well but we are not getting the results, and sometimes the scoreboard is the last thing to change. And that’s hard to take and I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes that’s the case.”
Portugal made four changes from the Georgia draw, all in the forward pack. Loosehead David Costa and back-rowers David Wallis and Thibault de Freitas make their first appearances in the Rugby World Cup. Martim Belo comes into the second row after 14 minutes off the bench last week.
Australia $1.01 Portugal $13
How to watch
Sky Sport 1 from 4.45am Monday
Australia 80 Portugal 7
Australia: Andrew Kellaway, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Izaia Perese, Lalakai Foketi, Marika Koroibete, Ben Donaldson, Tate McDermott; Rob Valetini, Fraser McReight, Tom Hooper, Richard Arnold, Nick Frost, James Slipper, Dave Porecki (captain), Angus Bell. Reserves: Matt Faessler, Blake Schoupp, Pone Fa’amausili, Rob Leota, Josh Kemeny, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Carter Gordon, Suliasi Vunivalu.
Portugal: Nuno Sousa Guedes, Raffaele Storti, Pedro Bettencourt, Tomás Appleton (captain), Rodrigo Marta, Jerónimo Portela, Samuel Marques; Thibault de Freitas, Nicolas Martins, David Wallis, Martim Belo, José Madeira, Diogo Hasse Ferreira, Mike Tadjer, David Costa. Reserves: Francisco Fernandes, Duarte Diniz, Francisco Bruno, Steevy Cerqueira, Rafael Simoes, Joao Belo, Joris Moura, Manuel Cardoso Pinto.
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