A tournament-threatening injury to wing Drew Mitchell soured Australia coach Robbie Deans’ mood after a 68-22 win over Russia on Saturday secured their place in the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 2011.
Having been forced to shuffle his line-up because of the “carnage” inflicted during the defeat of USA eight days earlier, Deans’ main priority was a bonus-point victory without any further mishap. And his players delivered the first part of the deal in record time.
They notched their fourth try in just 15 minutes, to secure the fastest bonus point of the tournament, as they scored at a rate of more than a point a minute for the first hour of the Pool C match at Trafalgar Park.
But when double try-scorer Mitchell went down with an apparent hamstring tear in the 54th minute, it could not have been worse for Deans.
“We obviously got what we came for. Drew’s injury looks serious though. That’s his tournament done,” said the coach, who had already been forced to take the unusual step of selecting back row Radike Samo on the other wing.
For Australia captain James Horwill it was mission accomplished. “We did what we needed to do,” he said. “We needed to get a four-try bonus point and we did that so we’re happy with that result and now we move on and we just wait and see who we play next week.”
Flanker David Pocock celebrated his return from injury with two tries and Berrick Barnes also crossed twice to cap a fine display at inside centre, while Ben McCalman, Stephen Moore, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Salesi Ma’afu collected a try apiece.
After missing his first attempt at goal, full back James O’Connor had a flawless afternoon with the boot slotting his next nine conversion attempts.
Although the match ended in a flurry of replacements and rain-soaked mistakes, Australia started in a fashion that should give them good heart ahead of their likely showdown with South Africa next week.
Samo, making his first start on the wing since 1999, put in a powerful burst down the right that set up Barnes to sidestep his way to the tryline after six minutes.
Two minutes later Barnes was again in the action as he kicked ahead for Mitchell to score his ninth Rugby World Cup try, after a sniping break by scrum half Luke Burgess from inside his own 22.
The Wallabies got their third after a deft kick pass from Quade Cooper to Samo, who again showed his strength before some neat offloading saw number 8 McCalman gallop in under the posts.
The bonus point arrived when Pocock barged through some ineffective tackling after an Australian lineout.
The influential openside stormed over for his second seven minutes later and O’Connor slotted another easy conversion to make the score 33-0.
Just as it was getting embarrassing the Russians found new resolve and after some concerted pressure wing Vladimir Ostroushko scored out wide on the right after pouncing on ball spilled by Burgess.
Fly half boost
But the Wallabies struck back immediately with tries by Moore, who got on the end of a Pocock break, and Ashley-Cooper, who dived on a kick through by Cooper, that meant it was 47-5 at half-time.
It was the same story immediatley after the interval, with Ma’afu crashing over for a try within two minutes of the restart.
But the introduction of replacement fly half Konstantin Rachkov boosted the Russians. His drop goal pegged the score back to 54-8 and, after Mitchell had scored his second try, Rachkov was on target with the conversion when wing Denis Simplikevich intercepted for a 50m sprint to the line.
As the Australians rang the changes they lost shape and sloppy errors crept into their game.
Rachkov got a try of his own with just over 10 minutes remaining and converted to make it 61-22.
But Barnes had the final say with Australia’s 10th try from an interception shortly before the final whistle. O’Connor made no mistake with the conversion.