Wallabies backup flyhalf inspires comeback vs Wales

TOKYO (AP) — The first substitution made by Australia was Matt To’omua into flyhalf.

It was an inspired choice by coach Michael Cheika while his side was trailing Wales 26-8 after 44 minutes of their Rugby World Cup clash on Sunday.

To’omua made a break down the left touchline that ended with fullback Dane Haylett-Petty diving across by the posts, and the Wallabies’ anticipated comeback was underway.

To’omua said he and his fellow reserves noticed from the sideline how Wales’ defense was playing up and in, and the Australians were too lateral and needed to attack the middle more.

He converted that try, couldn’t quite connect a cross-kick to Haylett-Petty near the right corner flag, and converted Australia’s second try. When he nailed a penalty in front of the posts, Australia was within one point of Wales with 12 minutes to go. But Wales earned the next points and the Wallabies were forced to score a try to win and were stopped at the Wales 22.

“They taught us a few lessons but there is no rule that says we can’t win the World Cup from here,” To’omua said.

“If we had played for 90 minutes we might have won, we just gave them too much of a lead. Once we relaxed and started playing we really felt like we had them on the legs.

“We kick the least out of most teams in world rugby and when we hold it and we run and we play Australian rugby we look all right. So we need to trust that, even in the heat of battle.”

The Wallabies also started slow against Fiji last weekend in Sapporo, coming back from 21-12 down. To’omua was substituted in while Australia was 21-20 behind, and helped the side grab the lead for the first time just three minutes later.

“For some reason we probably play our best footy when we are playing catchup,” he said. “We need to somehow consolidate that first 40, 50 minutes and that’s the springboard. We need to take those learnings because I don’t want to be here three weeks in a row saying, ‘Jeez we finished well but we weren’t good enough at the start.'”

Cheika has preferred To’omua as a backup to Christian Leali’ifano and Bernard Foley. To’omua has come off the bench in six of his seven tests this year, and in 22 of his 49 tests overall. He was in the match-day 23 in all of Australia’s matches in the 2015 World Cup, where they reached the final. Naturally, the utility back with the smooth goalkick would like to start more often.

“Everyone wants to start but, in saying that, I got 35-odd minutes off the bench today and I’m glad I’m getting more and more and more.

“I’ll keep doing what I can to push for a starting job but if it means impact off the bench then I’ll do what I can there as well.”