Fullback Lori Cramer had a chance to put the Wallaroos in front in the 79th minute but her penalty attempt from a very handy angle missed and the ‘Sakura XV’ held on for a famous 12-10 victory.
Cramer complained to referee Maggie Cogger-Orr after the miss but her protestations were waved off.
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“I thought she might get another shot at that,” former Wallaroos hooker Averyl Mitchell said on Stan Sport.
“You can see Lori Cramer not happy at all about the attempted chase down of the kick.”
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Players are allowed to charge down conversion attempts but not penalties.
Regardless, it was a kick the usually reliable Cramer should have made and a game the Wallaroos should have won.
Australia is ranked fifth in the world to Japan’s 12th as both eye teams the October-November World Cup in New Zealand.
“Lori Cramer will be filthy,” Mitchell said.
“She’s by and large the best place kicker in Australia at the moment and it’s super uncharacteristic for her to miss those.”
Neither team could score in the first half of a rugged affair at Bond University.
Japan eventually struck in the 49th minute as Arabella McKenzie’s pass between her legs backfired with Ayasa Otsuka swooping to kick ahead and score.
Hooker Ashley Marsters got Australia on the board via a rolling maul as Liz Patu entered the fray to become the most capped Wallaroos player with 25 Tests.
But some soft defense allowed Kyoko Hosokawa to stroll over for Japan’s second as the home fans started getting twitchy.
Adiana Talakai followed Marsters’ lead with a close quarters try but Cramer’s 0/3 night with the boot proved decisive.
“We were probably our own worst enemy out there today,” Wallaroos captain Shannon Parry said.
“Really good line speed and they smothered our attack. We came in with a game plan and we weren’t able to execute it. We’ve been together less than 10 days and hopefully we can learn from that.”
Action replay try for Japan
Parry also spoke about Cramer’s protestations.
“There was an issue but the referee refereed the game and we take her on what she has seen,” the skipper said.
“Our concern was that Japanese players were basically coming off the line on her approach to kick putting off the kicker. The referee was happy with it so we left it.