Australia stay on track

23rd Sep 2007, 19:58

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Brace Up: Matt Giteau coasts over for his second try

Brace Up: Matt Giteau coasts over for his second try

Australia kept themselves on course for a likely quarter-final showdown against England with a clinical 55-12 win over Fiji on Sunday.

Australia kept themselves on course for a likely quarter-final showdown against England with a clinical 55-12 win over Fiji in Montpellier on Sunday, a win that virtually guarantees first place in Pool B.

Australia grabbed the result in much the same way they had against Japan: weathering the enthusiasm of their opposition and taking a throttling control of the game, before cutting loose in the latter part of the first half.

The second half yielded less in the way of controlled Australian play though, with the heat taking an apparent toll on both sets of players, and the match rarely rose above trotting pace for much of it.

Yet the Wallabies kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties from Matt Giteau and a sweet drop goal from Berrick Barnes, and Adam Ashley-Cooper grabbed the all-important fourth try just before the hour mark to make the game safe.

A capacity crowd of 33,000 crammed into the wonderful Stade de la Mosson hoping for an exhibition of running rugby from both sides on a day boasting perfect conditions for that style of rugby.

Instead, the Australians took some time to get their rhythm going against a Fijian side committed to the tackle, that led to the Wallabies fluffing several try-scoring opportunities.

Starved of the ball, the islanders were forced to defend, which made it even more frustrating to watch as the Fijians kicked away any ball they did get instead of playing to their natural game.

It was always going to be a tough ask for Fiji, especially with their second-stringers taking the field, but they made life difficult for themselves with dreadful play in the line-outs as well as the scrums.

The Wallabies casually stole ball after ball and were hardly ever contested on their own throw, yet Fiji still opted to kick for touch instead of just keeping the ball in hand.

Australia on their other hand kept their composure after being scoreless with fifteen minutes gone on the clock, and did everything right to keep the Fijians from getting their hands on the ball - not that they would have done anything with it anyway.

Superb pin-point kicking from full-back Chris Latham and centre Matt Giteau forced the Islanders to run the ball out close to their own line on a few occasions. Yet the Wallabies failed to finish off with either forward passes, a foot in touch or a penalties for holding on ruining their chances.

In total, five opportunities went begging - a statistic that will count against the Wallabies against tougher opposition and something coach John Connolly will no doubt want to fix.

But their patience paid off after another burst from danger man Wycliff Palu finally got the Wallabies on the board after the ball was flung to birthday boy Lote Tuqiri.

The Fijian-born winger stepped on the gas, but was stopped in his tracks before offloading the ball in the tackle that was nearly intercepted by Maleli Kunavore - who instead slapped the ball in the hands of a supporting Giteau to speed over easily for his first of two converted tries.

Wallabies captain George Gregan, playing in his 137th match for Australia, was his usual chirping self - clearly frustrated with his team's inability to get more tries on the board.

However Giteau did his talking with the boot and slotted his first penalty kick of the match ten minutes later - which must be said, was a wrong call by referee Nigel Owens. The Fijians will feel hard done by after prop Matt Dunning lost the ball, and not stolen as adjudged by the Welshman.

But it mattered not with the Wallabies taking their second try after a neat left-footed grubber kick from Latham that caught the Fijians off-guard. But not winger Drew Mitchell, who followed up well for his first touchdown of the match. His opposite number Vilimoni Delasau perhaps guilty of not reacting accordingly on that occasion.

Giteau converted from the touchline and suddenly the Wallabies were 17-0 in front after 30 minutes played.

Australia now started to get their groove on with the backs and their forwards combining well to set up Giteau's second try of the match and his 20th for his country. It seemed all too easy for the Western Force player, who - with Tuqiri on his outside - simply ducked and spun his way over.

With 40 minutes up on the clock and the half-time hooter sounded, Fiji managed to put in the final attack of the half which led to a fantastic try to left wing Isoa Neivua in the corner.

And surprise, surprise - the try was scored thanks to the Fijian backline thinking on their feet. Which showed just how dangerous these Islanders can be when the ball is spread wide. The conversion was missed, but Fiji were on the board with the halftime score reading 22-5 in favour of the Australians.

Australia played it safe early on in the second with Giteau slotting another penalty which showed the Wallabies weren't messing around.

Wallaby rookie Berrick Barnes then played to his team's advantage after a Fijian strolled off-side by nailing a monster drop-goal that sailed over from 40 metres out.

All this precautious play was ruled out after some lacklustre tackling from a Fijian line-out led to Mosese Rauluni - a halftime replacement - taking a dart through an open gap. The veteran scrum-half drew Mitchell superbly (no pun intended), before offloading to a supporting Aca Ratuva to touch down for his first international try - and such a fine one at that.

Visibly rattled, Gregan instructed Giteau to kick for posts yet again after Fiji captain was successful with his touchline conversion.

With the score now reading 31-12 and with 30 minutes remaining on the clock, the Wallabies would have been concerned when their bonus point try would be scored.

They had no reason to worry when Ashley-Cooper took a Barnes pass at an excellent angle and at speed for the bonus point score. Gregan doing well with quick recycling of the ball on that occasion too.

With the heat taking it's toll on all the players, replacements were fast in coming from both sides.

The Wallabies though were forced into two substitutions after Barnes signaled his intent to leave the field after limping around with a tightened thigh muscle. He had also just taken a big hit from replacement back Seru Rabeni, who welcomed the young gun to Fiji rugby.

Rabeni was certainly out to make his presence felt after sending another Wallabies player off in the form of Scott Staniforth, who was Barnes replacement. He was duly replaced by Julian Huxley who managed to stay on longer than just two minutes.

With the entire Australia bench on the pitch, the fresh legs contributed to Mitchell's second try after a promising surge by Fiji on the Wallabies tryline, was counter-attacked with a try to the men in green and gold.

Two suspect moments raised a few eyebrows for the entire length of the field try. The first coming from Latham who's slap down of the ball off a Fiji pass seemed to go forwards before