Trafalgar Park. NELSON
A makeshift Australia team cruised into the quarter-finals with an impressive 68-22 victory over Russia in their final Pool C match at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.
With injuries forcing coach Robbie Deans to shuffle his line-up, the main priority was a bonus-point win 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 match.
Flanker David Pocock celebrated his return from injury with two tries and Drew Mitchell also crossed twice before he left the field with a hamstring strain that meant it was not all good news for coach Deans.
Berrick Barnes also grabbed two tries 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.
Radike 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.
Three minutes later 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 in just the 15th minute when Pocock barged through some ineffective tackling after an Australian lineout to touch down.
Pocock stormed over for his second seven minutes later and O'Connor slotted another easy conversion to make the score 33-0.
Just when it seemed likely to turn 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 when Moore got on the end of a Pocock break to score his try and Ashley-Cooper dived on a kick through by Cooper for a try that O'Connor converted with his sixth successful kick of the day.
It was the same story after the interval, with Ma'afu crashing over for a try within two minutes of the restart.
The arrival 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, he was on target with the conversion after 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 following an interception just before the final whistle. O'Connor made no mistake with the conversion.
*As of 28/9/2011
ELSON, 30 Sept. - Injury-riddled Australia need their makeshift line-up to secure a bonus point win against Russia at Trafalgar Park on Saturday, and more importantly, they need it done without new additions to their casualty ward.
A win by the Wallabies should be enough to secure a quarter-final berth while a bonus point win will keep their hopes of finishing top of Pool C alive as they look ahead to the all-decisive clash between Italy and Ireland on Sunday.
However coach Robbie Deans also admitted his team needed to avoid the potential “train smash” that would be a repeat of the dreadful injury toll that emerged from their last match, the 67-5 victory over the USA.
Already boasting a walking wounded squad of only 24 fit players, any further casualties would cripple Australia’s chances of surviving a likely quarter-final showdown with South Africa.
The injury toll has forced Deans to move loose forward Radike Samo to the wing, a position he last played in 1999, and name a lopsided bench where scrum halves Will Genia and Nick Phipps are the only backs replacements.
Deans says he has complete faith that Samo, who stands at 197cm and weighs 117kg, has the ability to compete as a wing on the world’s biggest stage.
"He's a remarkable athlete. He's 35, I understand, and he can still run really fast and he's obviously good in the contact,” he said
"He's got a skill set that will be useful in the wide channels as well as through the middle."
One player who is genuinely excited by the new-look Australian line-up is full back James O’Connor, who wants to make the most of his opportunity to slide in and out of the Australian attack at will.
"I like to get into second receiver as much as possible and I think that's where I provide my biggest threat,” he said.
“I'll be looking and sniffing around that area for sure."
The 21-year-old believes the key to an Australian bonus point victory is to work hard in defence from the outset and then take advantage of space on the fringes as the match wears on.
"The big thing for them is it's their last game so they're going to throw the ball around,” O'Connor said.
"The big thing for us is that we're going to have to cut them down physically early on and dominate that breakdown. It should pay dividends for us out wide and hopefully I can get a bit of pill (ball).”
For Russia the match presents a rare opportunity to test themselves against one of the best sides in the world and finish their World Cup campaign on a high.
“This is a historic match for us as we have never played Australia at such a level. It will be tough against them but we will try to perform at our best to conclude the World Cup in a positive way,” said coach Nikolay Nerush.
Nerush has named Yury Kushnarev at fly half in place of Konstantin Rachkov, who started Russia’s previous two matches, while hooker Vladislav Korshunov returns from injury to reclaim the captaincy.
“Yury Kushnarev is back as fly half because in the first game he did not show all his best, so we want to give him another chance,” Nerush said.
“Konstantin Rachkov has started the previous two matches but we are still looking for reinforcement at this position.”
While the Wallabies admit they knew very little about the Russian side prior to the tournament, the Bears have been utilising a valuable source of Aussie knowledge within their squad.
Australian-born second row Adam Byrnes qualifies for Russia through his maternal grandmother and is looking forward to taking on many of his former teammates from the Queensland Reds.
“Playing against the Wallabies, against people I’ve either been teammates with or played against for a number of years, is fantastic,” he said.
“We’re all mates off the field, but once it’s on, it’s on.”
Despite the Australian connection, Deans is under no illusions about the intention of Russia to put in a physical showing in their last match at 2011 Rugby World Cup.
"They're on a plane (home) within 24 hours (of the match) so under that circumstance they'll bring everything,” he said.“They're proud men, they're physical, strong, they've got some able backs and they've played some good rugby."
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