November Internationals 2017: Japan vs. Australia, 5 things we learned

What did we learn when the Wallabies took on the Cherry Blossoms?

The Wallabies took care of Japan in a high-scoring encounter in Yokohama before they travel to Europe to start their November Tests in earnest. The 63-30 final score suggested plenty of offensive firepower on both sides, but that perhaps some of the defensive work left a little to be desired. Here is a look at five things we learned from the match:

Japan have improved massively since 2007

The last time these two sides met was in Lyon as part of the 2007 World Cup in France. It was a match that showcased the gulf in class between the two nations at the time as the Australians cruised to a 91-3 in one of those World Cup pool games where the dominant team can basically decide how many tries they want to win by. If was a non-event, but it was a match (and a tournament) which really sparked Japanese interest in rugby union,

A decade later and the game in Japan has improved in leaps and bounds since that day in Southern France. The Wallabies may have brushed aside the Cherry Blossoms and dominated for stretches, but there was a fight and determination about their hosts that just wasn’t evident the last time the two sides played. The Japanese came roaring back late in the game, piling on the points and looking a real threat with ball in hand.


Japan still has a long way to go

As good as Japan was in the last 20 minutes of this match, their performance for the first 60 – and the first 40 in particular – was not up to the standard that the coaches and players would have liked. 

This looked on paper like it would be a tricky fixture for the Australians, but those thoughts were pushed aside by halftime as the Wallabies took a 35-3 lead into the break. This was the most points that Australia had put up in a half since a 2011 World Cup game against Russia and it was not what the packed house in Yokohama wanted to see.

The problem was that the Japanese made too many mistakes early on in the contest. Some of this was over-exuberance, while there were also times where Japan looked sluggish and slow compared to their visitors. If Japan wants to be taken seriously in international rugby circles, then they need to play with more fire early in games against the Tier One nations.

Australia came to play

One reason that this shaped up as a tricky match was the randomness of the fixture on the schedule. Australia came into this contest having just played an emotionally charged against New Zealand, one where the Wallabies went all out to win and reverse their recent Bledisloe Cup fortunes. 

Tests with Wales, England, and Scotland loom over the next few weeks, so there was a real question mark about the desire of the Australian side against a team still considered as rugby minnows.

It was Aussie captain Michael Hooper who led the charge here, calling on his troops to maintain their high standards from the game against the All Blacks and have no let down before travelling to Europe. These calls were answered (especially early on) as the new look Wallabies ran in nine tries against the Cherry Blossoms.

Reece Hodge can play anywhere in the backline

You can often find wingers that have the ability to cover at another position in a pinch. In Reece Hodge though, Australia has a winger that can play any position from No. 10 backward and do so at a level good enough for his national team to win games. That is adaptability of the highest order.

Hodge was thrust into the starting fly-half jumper when Bernard Foley was taken ill before the match in Japan. It had already been noted that the Wallabies were without a regular replacement at pivot, especially as Quade Cooper had again been left at home. What we didn’t know was the head coach Michael Cheika had all the confidence in the world that Hodge would step in and do a job.

Hodge wasn’t perfect, it would be unrealistic to expect that to be the case, but his performance was one that will have many Wallabies fans excited. The next step here is for Hodge to play the position regularly for the Melbourne Rebels and see if he can develop into an international level starting first five-eighth.

Tatafu Polota-Nau keeps on rolling

This was a Test seen by many as a chance for Australia to look at some of the new blood rising through the ranks. There was plenty of youth and talent on show, but one of the biggest stars was a 32-year-old hooker that seems to have no clue that his best international days should be behind him.

It used to be that forwards could play well into their thirties as the game was about kicking and set-piece work. This though has changed massively over the last decade and you simply cannot be on an international rugby pitch unless you have ball skills and make an impact in loose play. 

Polota-Nau has always been a beast in the scrum and he has literally changed games for Australia coming off of the bench with his set-piece ability. He seems to have become a better loose play players as he gets older and he is thus proving to be a hugely important piece of the Wallabies lineup even as you would think he should be aging out of their plans.

What did you notice from the game? Let us know in the comments below!

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Steve Wright


Rugby Union editor at RealSport.

Steve is a devotee to all things rugby union with writing being just one way of showing his love for the game. He also plays for the highly successful Wichita Barbarians during XVs season, before taking his talents South (in the style of LeBron James) to play sevens for the HEB Hurricanes out of Dallas, Texas.

When not writing or playing rugby, Steve is found playing or watching soccer, or watching any one of dozens of other sports as an admitted competition junkie. He also finds time to release his inner nerd as a lover of all things gaming (board and video.)

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