The Wallaroos’ Rugby World Cup campaign is still alive after securing a gritty win over Japan in their final match-up of the group stage, a victory Kinross product Grace Hamilton carried Australia to with a player of the game performance.
Playing No.8, Hamilton was monumental in the Wallaroos’ tournament opening losses to Ireland and France but went to another level in Friday morning’s (AEST) 29-15 victory over the speedy Japanese, which keeps Australia in the battle for fifth.
The 25-year-old was the catalyst for the Aussies’ go-forward, storming her way to 106 running metres and fnishing with a perfect defensive strike rate too, making her presence felt in every tackle she made.
She was, justly, rewarded with a five-pointer in the 30th minute as well.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever won in [an Australian] jumper, it’s just massive. I didn’t want to go home without [a] win,” Hamilton told rugby.com.au.
“I think that’s what we needed, we needed some positivity. All credit to the girls, they were outstanding.
“We just kept fighting, Japan were all over us in some stages and they’re very speedy (but) we got the win in a physical game.”
Hamilton’s entire family has been on hand for all three of Australia’s pool games.
While it would’ve been a proud moment for her anyway, having them in the stands makes the victory and her performance so much more special.
“Mum actually leaves after today too, so I really wanted her to see us win,” Hamilton said.
“Having all of my family here has just been amazing, I can’t believe they’ve come all this way … that’s pretty special for me.”
Although Australia finished with a two-try victory, Japan didn’t make things easy for Hamilton and her troops.
After a frenetic start the two sides were embroiled in a fierce arm-wrestle for the upper hand.
The Wallaroos won that thanks to tries from Hamilton and Samantha Treherne, before a 90-metre effort from sevens speedster Mahalia Murphy extended the side’s lead to 19-0 just shy of half-time.
It could have been more, but for a Nareta Masters knock-on over the line.
But that momentum swung in the late stages of the first period, after Japan put together a mammoth 25-phase attacking raid and scored on the end of it.
The tenacious Japanese kept coming after the break and scored their second and third tries through Riho Kurogi and Maki Takano, respectively, to slash the deficit to just four points at 19-15.
Fortunately for the Aussies the Japanese goalkicker’s radar was off, or they may well have found themselves behind.
However, with the game still firmly in the balance Aussie skipper Sharni Williams sparked a match-winning movement, producing a stunning offload that led to a Marsters try.
Treherne grabbed her second in the 75th minute to secure the victory, the Wallaroos’ first since the 2014 World Cup – although the side’s only played five Test Matches since then.
The win sets up a mouth-watering showdown with hosts Ireland in the fifth-place semi-final next Wednesday, kicking off at 5am (AEST).
The Irish handed the Wallaroos their first defeat of the tournament on August 10, coming from behind to eventually win 19-17 in a tense tournament opener.