A star is born as sluggish Wallabies down Uruguay
Young gun Jordan Petaia has the poise and X-factor to be thrown into a sudden-death Rugby World Cup blockbuster after the Wallabies witnessed a star being born in Japan on Saturday.
Fullback Kurtley Beale made the prediction after Petaia soared above a team performance that was both patchy and punchy when dealing with improvers Uruguay 45-10.
It's a bold call on a kid who has played just 40 minutes of Test rugby but the athletic 19-year-old winger had eyes popping at Oita's indoor stadium because he did the most difficult thing in footy...live up to the hype.
"I've no doubt. You need guys who can create out of nothing and that X-factor is what you need at a tournament like this," Beale said when asked if Petaia would be in the hunt for a quarter-final spot. Petaia didn't touch the ball in attack until the 23rd minute but just 60 seconds later he was surging and spinning over for his first Test try off a Beale inside ball.
Later in the first half, Petaia instinctively switched to an inside line off Beale, deftly stepped by two defenders and threw the pass that put centre Tevita Kuridrani over for the first of his double.Veteran Wallabies prop James Slipper couldn't believe it because he was still to break his try duck in a 94-Test career."
Jordie was making his debut and going over before I did. I was like 'what, really?' I've been slogging away for 10 years without one," Slipper said with a broad grin.The avalanche of delighted bodies that engulfed Petaia was only matched my the mob of sweaty indigenous jerseys that piled on Slipper when his moment came just before the hour mark.
It was the sweetest running, the best two metres he's ever galloped.
"Me not scoring a try had become a running joke for a couple of years.
Guys like Michael Hooper would keep bugging me about it so I'm relieved it's over," Slipper said.
"Ok, it was just over one metre but it'll change...when I add 5m to it every year."
Petaia was replaced at half-time as pre-planned because he was playing his first minutes at any level, on a healed hamstring, since a Brisbane club cameo on July 27."Awesome, extremely stoked," Petaia said.
"I was pretty itchy to get involved after the anthem but I was happy to wait for the ball to come my way."
"Pretty much everyone in the whole squad congratulated and encouraged me into the game and my mum (Helen) and dad (Tielu) got over two days before to see it."
Two yellow cards were dealt to punish careless seatbelt tackles around the shoulder-neck area by Adam Coleman and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto. Both contributed to an inconsistent first half (19-3) when errors and Uruguay's breakdown craft and defence disrupted the Wallabies' rhythm as well.
There were some strong selection pointers. Ever-present backrower Jack Dempsey must be rewarded with more time.
His quick-footed, evasive running was best summed up with his powerful surge through three defenders out wide to set up a try for replacement Will Genia. Flyhalf Christian Lealiifano was understated but efficient and most of his five-from-seven with the boot were from wide angles. Enough to play next Friday against Georgia, most likely, but Bernard Foley has more tricks when in form.
Two-try centre Tevita Kuridrani ran some strong, direct lines as always (11 runs for 136m), inside centre Matt Toomua again looked a mature head and captain Michael Hooper was non-stop for his 40 minutes.
How much these Wallabies are digging in to fight for each other was impressive because they defended superbly on their own tryline late in the game before Uruguay's best, No.8 Manuel Diana, drove over for his side's only five-pointer.
Halfback Nic White was better getting back to his darting ways for 50 minutes, even though the falcon off Matt Toomua's head was his pass. Beale proudly wore the indigenous Wallabies jersey and produced his best game of the tournament by some distance with one sharp diagonal run and eagerness to always be involved.
He almost jumped out of his jersey when an Aussie streaker ran onto the field early wearing only a flowing gold, short kimono as wide open as Sydney Heads.
Beale grinned: "I felt something rush by me and I heard the crowd...yeah he spooked me." Even Uruguay's professionals such as fullback Rodrigo Silva earn well under $100,000 a season for playing in the US for the Austin Herd in Major League Rugby. Sending 15 of Uruguay's best to MLR to train like professionals was one of the nation's big steps to upgrade after being beaten 65-3 by the Wallabies at the 2015 tournament when they were the last of the World Cup's purely amateur teams.
Australia 45 (T Kuridrani 2, D Haylett-Petty 2, J Petaia, W Genia, J Slipper tries: C Lealiifano 5 con) bt Uruguay 10 (M Diana try; F Berchesi con, pen goal)
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