Ben Donaldson has justified his shock selection with a starring role in the Wallabies’ 35-15 World Cup victory over Georgia in Paris to end their winless streak under coach Eddie Jones.
Donaldson scored two tries and kicked 15 points for a personal tally of 25 points to earn the player of the match award at Stade de France on Saturday (Sunday AEST) as Jones celebrated the first win of his second stint with the Wallabies following five straight defeats.
“We knew what he was capable of and we felt in a game like that where there’s going to be a lot of kicking … his long kick was invaluable,” Jones said of 24-year-old Donaldson, who replaced Andrew Kellaway at 15.
“He’s a very good decision maker and his goal-kicking was first class.”
Donaldson said the team were able to execute their game plan, which made him look good.
“We had a game plan – we’ve been building for a long time now and the boys executed really well for the full 80 minutes,” Donaldson said.
“In the end it made me look half-decent so I put that on all the boys.
The Australians set up the victory with an impressive first half and although they fell away through the middle of the match they showed discipline, incurring just seven penalties, to stick to the script to secure the much-needed win.
Jones said they got what they wanted out of the match, including a crucial bonus point for scoring four tries.
He lauded the performance of the Wallabies forwards, led by props Taniela Tupou and Angus Bell, and skipper Will Skelton at lock, who outplayed the highly rated Georgian pack and allowed Donaldson and winger Mark Nawaqanitawase to shine.
“Round one, you want to be sitting with five points,” Jones said.
“It’s the first time I’ve been involved in a game against Georgia where their scrum hasn’t dominated, so it’s a credit to (scrum coach) Neal Hatley and the front row and the rest of the pack for their scrum efficiency,” he said.
“And secondly, our attacking kicking was really good – we put Mark (Nawaqanitawase) in a number of situations where he really caused the opposition a lot of trouble.
“So they’re two really key and promising areas for us.”
In stifling heat in Paris, with the temperature still in the mid 30s for the 6pm kick-off, the Wallabies got off to a blistering start with centre Jordan Petaia crossing in the second minute.
With a 50:22 kick by Nawaqanitawase giving Australia ideal field position, Tate McDermott fired a quick ball on to Petaia who burst through the defence to score.
Following a penalty strike by Georgia’s Luka Matkava, the Wallabies were in again at nine minutes through Nawaqanitawase.
After an early miss, Donaldson booted the conversion and then three successive penalties for the Wallabies to take a 21-3 lead into halftime.
The Australians suffered a blow late in the first half, losing McDermott after the halfback’s head collided with a Georgian knee as he was making a tackle.
He was able to walk from the field, although he’ll miss their next pool clash with Fiji under concussion protocols.
Hoping for a tighter tussle, the sold-out stadium roared at the sniff of a Georgia try and were rewarded seven minutes into the second half with flanker Luka Ivanishvili crossing.
The Australians got lucky when a Georgia break ended in a loose pass, with a charging Tupou off-loading to Donaldson to score the first of his two tries in the 56th minute.
It proved a turning point, putting the Wallabies out to a commanding 33-8 lead.
While it wasn’t a flawless showing it was a good starting point, according to Jones.
“The one thing I know in a World Cup is that you want to get better week by week,” he said.
“We had the game not won but in the position to win it at halftime.
“We didn’t really allow them a chance to get in the game so whilst the second half wasn’t our absolute best, that’s part of our projection in the tournament.”