Pool C: Australia 34 Portugal 14
Wallaby fans do not currently know whether to laugh or cry. Even this bonus-point win felt like a mixed blessing, technically keeping them alive in the tournament but also serving to extend their agony for another week. Unless Fiji contrive to lose to Portugal in their final World Cup Pool C game on October 8th it will be game over for Australia regardless.
At least they avoided the ultimate indignity of defeat to a spirited Portuguese side who asked enough attacking questions to delight their thousands of exuberant travelling fans. Despite being temporarily reduced to 13 men at one stage in the second half, however, Eddie Jones’s side had a sufficiently big lead to avoid the unthinkable.
It is a sign of the times, nevertheless, when beating the world’s 16th-ranked side represents a relative high point. Even before kick-off loud boos echoed around the stadium whenever Jones’s face appeared on the big screen and the Wallabies’ defeats to Fiji and Wales are destined to remain the defining moments of their ill-fated campaign.
Jones is a survivor but this year – P9 W2 L7 – has been a rough old ride even by his standards. Will he still be a head coach at the 2027 World Cup, to be hosted by Australia, or still in charge when the Wallabies face the British & Irish Lions in 2025? Whether he is or not, Australian rugby union is quite clearly in need of a major reboot.
It certainly feels a while ago since Jones’s Japan stunned South Africa in one of the all-time great World Cup heists in 2015. The local streets and trams were full of Portuguese fans hoping for a similar miracle on a gorgeous sunny day but, ultimately, tries from Richie Arnold, Dave Porecki, Angus Bell, Fraser McReight and Marika Koroibete ensured there was no repeat.
Os Lobos could still be backed at 22-1 before kick-off, despite having lost only 28-8 to Wales who subsequently beat the Wallabies 40-6. Quick in thought and deed, they have been doing their country proud at this World Cup and did so once again here, particularly with ball in hand.
On another day they might have scored at least a couple more tries, with the Wallaby defence coming under frequent pressure. Portugal also scored the game’s first try after Koroibete got himself into a complete tangle in his own in-goal area and conceded an attacking five-metre scrum. With advantage being played the Portuguese backs moved the ball wide and their tall centre, Pedro Bettencourt, swallow-dived into the right corner.
Unfortunately for the 28-year-old from Porto, who plays his club rugby in France for Oyannax, his next intervention was less positive. An upright tackle saw him sent to the sinbin and, while the offence was not upgraded in the bunker, it killed Portugal’s momentum stone dead.
Playing against 14 men the Wallabies took swift advantage by scoring three close-range forward tries inside seven minutes through Arnold, Porecki and Bell as the red-shirted defence parted rather too easily. As soon as Bellencourt reappeared, though, the tide turned again and another flowing break-out would have produced a score for the excellent flanker Nicolas Martins had he not been bundled into touch inches short.
Australia’s 24-7 advantage at half-time was extended just seven minutes after the restart when a spell of territorial pressure eventually enabled McReight to steal away and secure the bonus-point score. Portugal should have reduced the gap only for their hooker, Mike Tadjer, to have the ball dislodged by a Wallaby hand with the line begging. The replacement hooker Matt Faessler was subsequently sent to the sinbin but the referee Nika Amashukeli opted against awarding a penalty try.
When Samu Kerevi was also sent to the sinbin for a leading forearm to the head of the Portugal captain Tomas Appleton, it gave Os Lobos further encouragement. Their replacement backrow forward Rafael Simōes scored an overdue second try from a close-range drive, only for Australia to respond through Koroibete. It was enough to ensure victory on the night but, barring something extraordinary, this will be the last sighting of the Wallabies in this competition.