AUSTRALIA duly advanced into the semi-finals of the Halifax Centenary World Cup, beating Fiji even more decisively than England had done in midweek.
It was a measure of Fiji's decline from popular heroes to cannon fodder in the past week that the world champions were able to inflict such punishment on them without having to play at full throttle throughout the 80 minutes at the Alfred McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield.
With a second showdown at Wembley in mind, there were warning signs for England that two glorified training sessions this week have given Australia the chance that they needed to find their feet. New Zealand, who will play them in the semi-finals back here next Sunday, will also have taken note of the ominous way various departments of the Australian side are clicking into gear.
Both wingers, Brett Dallas and Robbie O'Davis, scored hat- tricks of tries, but the dominant figures of the Australian performance were closer to the centre of the action. Andrew Johns, normally a half-back, slotted in neatly as hooker and goalkicker, whilst Brad Fittler, although not without blemish, had moments when he looked capable of beating Fiji single- handedly.
Fittler's first intervention was inadvertent, his pass being knocked down by a Fijian hand to allow Mark Coyne to provide Dallas with his first try.
O'Davis then opened his account when Fiji's most experienced player, Noa Nadruku, made a mess of Fittler's bomb. Then a clever pass from Fittler to the rampaging Steve Menzies produced the third Australian try, quickly followed by a shrewd kick from Johns which set up Terry Hill.
Fiji, weakened by injuries before the match and without their captain, Lee Nalagilagi, from the 28th minute, were already out of their depth, but they were pushed deeper into hopelessness immediately before half- time by two flashes of the sort of Fittler skill that can destroy far better teams.
His beautifully weighted lob over the defence created a picture book try for Tim Brasher and, after the interval hooter had sounded, an equally good kick gave Menzies his second.
The Fijians are not men to be taken lightly. On a visit to a school near Huddersfield earlier this week, their 25-man party demolished 135 school dinners - an almost super-human feat, but one which perhaps explains their stodginess yesterday, compared with the gourment affair they produced when faced with the very different proposition of playing South Africa in their first World Cup game last Sunday.
They have been to school in more than one sense on this trip and have now found out what it takes against the likes of Australia. There is potential there, but they need a lot more education and their only real achievement yesterday was to keep Australia scoreless for 17 minutes after half-time.
During that time, they even had their chance to record their first World Cup points when their full-back, Waisale Sovatabua, was fouled by Gary Larson as he chased his own kick. Save Taga missed the penalty, however, and Australia were soon back into their relentless rhythm.
Hill went through some weak tackling for his second try and then Brasher and O'Davis linked up to send Dallas over.
O'Davis and Dallas completed hat-tricks that were there for the taking, cutting through a defence which had now disintegrated with embarrassing ease. And Larson finished the rout in the last minute.
It has been a roller coaster of illusion and disillusion for these Fijians. After their exhilarating display at Keighley they have met the two favourites for the competition and conceded 112 points without reply. Even their singers, by far the best in the tournament, were quiet by the end and it is time for them all to go home and learn their lines much better for next time.
Australia: Brasher (Sydney Tigers), Dallas (Sydney Bulldogs), Coyne (St George), Hill (Manly), O'Davis (Newcastle), Fittler (Penryth), Toovey (Manly), Pay (Sydney Bulldogs), A Johns (Newcastle), Carroll (Manly), Menzies (Manly), Larson (North Sydney), Dymock (Sydney Bulldogs). Substitutes: McGregor (Illawarra) for Coyne, 54; Smith (Sydney Bulldogs) for Menzies, 56; Kosef (Manly) for Carroll, 66; M Johns (Newcastle) for Dymock, 69.
Fiji: Sovatabua (Panthers), Cavuilati (Sydney Bulldogs), Nalagilagi (Penryth) Seru (Illawarra), Nadruku (Canberra), Nayacakalou (Penryth), Tage (Nadi), Yasa (Lautoka), Sagaitu (N Sydney), Nakubuwai (Yanco), Dakuitoga (Penryth), Davetawalu (Nadi), Korovata (Yanco). Substitutes: Naisoro (Lautoka) for Nalagilagi 28; Koroibuleka (Waitakere) for Nadruku h/t; G Vatubua (Lautoka) for Naisoro 55; Naisoro for Davetawalu 71.
Referee: E Ward (Australia)