Wallabies power into last eight
September 23, 2007
Drew Mitchell barges past Vilimoni Delasau to score
© Getty Images
Australia stormed into this year's Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a 55-12 victory over Fiji in their Pool B clash in Montpellier. Australia booked a World Cup quarter-final clash with either England or Tonga after cruising to a bonus-point victory over Fiji.
Matt Giteau was the star of the show and celebrated his 50th Test cap by scoring two of Australia's seven tries in a personal haul of 27 points. The Wallabies enjoyed a mountain of possession and rarely needed to get above second gear as they worked a hat-trick for Drew Mitchell and tries each for Adam Ashley-Cooper and Stephen Hoiles.
Fiji's game was riddled with errors and despite scoring twice, through winger Isoa Neivua and flanker Ace Ratuva, they never came close to threatening the Wallabies. Australia returned to France from their bonus-point victory over Wales in Cardiff chasing a repeat performance against Fiji to secure top spot in Pool B.
The Wallabies would book a quarter-final in Marseille against either England or Tonga if they could score four tries and deny the Fijians a losing bonus point. While the Pacific Islanders had one eye on a make-or-break showdown with the Welsh next weekend and made 11 changes, Australia named a powerful side.
In the absence of the injured Stirling Mortlock, veteran scrum-half George Gregan captained Australia for the 59th time - equalling the international record set by England's Will Carling - and the versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper returned from a toe problem to start at outside centre.
Rookie Berrick Barnes continued his Test education in the fly-half jersey, having received a late call-up in Cardiff last week to replace the injured Stephen Larkham. Fiji made themselves awkward in the opening exchanges - Barnes turned the ball over under a huge tackle in the first minutes - but they could not build any pressure as silly mistakes and handling errors gifted Australia a constant attacking platform.
The Wallabies won an early scrum against the head but Fiji held firm in the face of powerful charges from Rocky Elsom and Wycliff Palu. It was often last-ditch stuff from the Fijians and Gregan and Barnes frequently came close to picking open the defence.
Fiji were playing the game almost exclusively in their own 22 but scrum-half Jone Daunivucu disrupted Gregan at the base of a Wallaby scrum and flanker Ace Ratuva galloped clear.
Ratuva punted the ball downfield and after Chris Latham cleared Fiji had a promising attacking position - only for them chance to be squandered by poor handling. Barnes produced a delicate 'banana kick' from the outside of his right boot - a skill developed in Australian rugby league - to force Fiji onto the back foot once again.
Australia eventually punctured the Fijian defence after 17 minutes. Lote Tuqiri - a former Fiji rugby league captain - attacked down the right wing. His offload was deflected by a Fijian hand but Giteau was on hand to race over the line and under the posts. Two poor clearances allowed Australia to build camp deep in Fiji territory and the Wallabies were nearly over twice more in quick succession. But Barnes was denied a try after referee Nigel Owens recalled play for a forward pass and Tuqiri just brushed the touchline.
Australia were in complete control and it seemed just a matter of time before the Wallabies sharpened their execution. Giteau extended the lead with a penalty before Latham dabbed a clever kick between two defenders and Drew Mitchell held off Vilimoni Delasau to regather and touch down for Australia's second.
Gregan was warned by referee Owens for too much chat and he was then penalised on the half hour for failing to keep his mouth shut. Fiji went for touch but once again squandered the platform - this was becoming a constant theme - as hooker Vereniki Sauturaga was penalised for the third time in the half for taking too long over the lineout.
And, inevitably, Fiji were punished. Daunivucu cleaned up after Giteau had chipped through for Mitchell. But from the lineout, the ball was spread wide and Palu fed Giteau who spun out of the tackle and touched down for his second try of the afternoon.
Fiji then caused chaos in the Australian ranks straight from the restart and, for the first time in the game, made best use of an attacking platform inside the Wallaby half. The lineout was secured and the ball spread across field to Isoa Neivua who came off his wing and was driven through three defenders and over the line by full-back Norman Liguiri.
Fiji introduced the big guns at half-time, with centre Seru Rabeni, scrum-half Moses Rauluni and lock Wame Lewaravu all sent on. It was, nevertheless, a case of 'as you were' straight after the interval as Australia re-established camp in the Fijian half.
Giteau extended the Wallabies' lead with a penalty before Barnes landed a confident drop-goal to edge Australia into a 28-5 lead. Once again, though, Australia were less than impressive at the restart as Tuqiri allowed the ball to bounce and Fiji earned a scrum 15 metres out.
More poor handling, this time from Rabeni, initially let Australia off the hook. But Fiji worked an excellent lineout allowing Rauluni to burst through a gap in the middle and he slipped the scoring pass for Ratuva to score in the corner.
The new arrivals injected some urgency into the Fijian cause. Rabeni put a massive hit on Barnes and then denied Mitchell a simple try by getting his finger-tips to a well-weighted cross-field kick. But they could not halt the inevitable. Giteau slotted a third penalty - much to the derision of the local fans - and the ubiquitous centre then showed a deft slight of hand to send Ashley-Cooper over for the Wallabies' fourth try.
That prompted a raft of changes in the Australia camp, with scrum-half Sam Cordingley, lock Hugh McMeniman and prop Greg Holmes all introduced. Fiji continued to push for a third try and Neivua was just short of the line when the ball, again, went to ground.
And Australia counter-attacked in devastating fashion as Tuqiri broke clear and lofted a pass for Mitchell, who outstripped the Fijian defence to score under the posts. Stephen Hoiles plunged over in the left corner to bring up the Wallabies' half-century of points after Julian Huxley had made the initial break by slicing through the Fijian defence.
And Mitchell, who had a great deal to prove after a mixed performance against Wales last week, completed his hat-trick with the final play of the game after being sent over by Ashley-Cooper.
Australia (22) 55
Fiji (5) 12
Australia: Latham, Mitchell, Ashley-Cooper, Giteau, Tuqiri, Barnes, Gregan, Dunning, Moore, Shepherdson, Chisholm, Vickerman, Elsom, Waugh, Palu.
Replacements: Freier, Holmes, McMeniman, Hoiles, Cordingley, Staniforth, Huxley.
Fiji: Ligairi, Delasau, Kunavore, Bai, Neivua, Luveniyali, Daunivucu, Yalayalatabua, Sauturaga, Qiodravu, Domolailai, Rawaqa, Talei, Ratuva, Qovu.
Replacements: Gadolo, Railomo, Lewaravu, Koyamaibole, Rauluni, Lovobalavu, Rabeni.
Referee: N Owens (Wales)
Huw Richards Rewinds to 1975 when three Welsh legends were handed their debuts and assesses their legacy
Seven places in the Champions Cup quarter-finals are up for grabs; we break down the permutations for each group in the final round of matches
"Easter must show he is built in the Lancaster blueprint despite having not featured on the England radar until now," writes Tom Hamilton
Monday Maul reflects on a stark setback against Saracens for Munster and ponders what it all means for the Irish provinces in the Champions Cup