Rugby World Cup 2019
Australia 45-10 Uruguay
Fly-half Christian Lealiifano hailed his “X-factor” team-mate Jordan Petaia and backed the 19-year-old winger to shine in a Wallaby jersey for a long time to come after the teenager scored a try and set up another on his test debut, inspiring Australia to a comfortable bonus-point win against Uruguay in Oita on Saturday.
All week the hype has been about the teenager and it took the Wallabies’ youngest ever World Cup starter only 24 minutes to make his mark.
First, Petaia was pulled up metres short after a powerful run down the left wing. He picked himself up and minutes later chose a scything line to appear on Kurtley Beale’s inside shoulder. After bouncing Uruguay full-back Rodrigo Silva the winger touched down under the posts.
“He is an outstanding talent,” Lealiifano said of Petaia, who became the first player born this century to score a try at RWC 2019.
“It’s always nice to have that X factor, to give him the ball and know he’s hopefully going to produce something for you. Second or third touch he gets over the line.”
Seven minutes after his record-breaking score Petaia laid on another for Player of the Match Tevita Kuridrani, helping the Wallabies to go into the break on the front foot, despite a patchy first-half display.
“Kurtley (Beale) putting me under the posts there was pretty special and especially wearing those indigenous colours out there,” said Petaia, whose parents flew in to watch his first start. “It was an awesome feeling.”
The Wallabies, led by head coach Michael Cheika, admitted afterwards they were not feeling quite so awesome at half-time, having been frustrated by a display described by try-scoring winger Dane Haylett-Petty as “sloppy”.
Despite scoring early, after second-row Adam Coleman pounced on a ricochet in the Uruguay 22 to help set up Haylett-Petty, the Wallabies were guilty of bouts of indiscipline and went in 19-3 ahead.
Two sloppy high tackles in as many first-half minutes resulted in blind-side flanker Lukhan Salakia-Loto being sent to the bin within two minutes of the return of Coleman, who had committed a similar offence.
“The one thing we need to be mindful of is we have not started games well,” Cheika said. “It’s definitely something we need to address.”
As Cheika acknowledged, Uruguay played their part in stopping the Wallaby game plan early on.
After twice opting against going for the posts from kickable penalties, fly-half Felipe Berchesi got his team on the board in the 12th minute. And it nearly got a whole lot better for the South Americans on the stroke of half-time but a try for centre Tomas Inciarte was ruled out for an earlier infringement.
His work done, it was out with the new and in with the getting-on-a-bit as Petaia gave way to the 35-year-old Adam Ashley-Cooper for the second half.
The utility man, playing in his fourth World Cup and 121st test, may one day tell his disbelieving grandchildren that he shared a pitch with Jordan Petaia.
The Wallabies tightened up considerably after the break, with Kuridrani’s second try – enough to secure Australia’s bonus point – a beautifully executed move straight off the training ground.
Replacement scrum-half Will Genia soon followed him on to the score sheet and then Haylett-Petty secured his second as Uruguay tired. That left the way clear for veteran prop James Slipper to burrow over from close range and score for the first time in 94 test appearances. “Hopefully the floodgates open now,” he joked.
Uruguay never crumbled, despite knowing they were out of RWC 2019, and that gave coach Esteban Meneses great heart.
“I am very proud of my players,” said Meneses, for whom number eight Manuel Diana crashed over three minutes from time to secure their first-ever try against Australia. “They are very dedicated and our side wanted to show the improvement of Uruguayan rugby.”
But there is no doubt the afternoon belonged to one man: a teenager.