Though there was nothing remotely life-threatening about Australia's completion of their World Cup Pool B game against Canada in Bordeaux, their progress to a quarter-final against England in Marseilles on Saturday has not been quite as smooth as they would have liked.
The official line has been that there is no element of unfinished business after defeat to the English in the last World Cup final. The captain for the day against the Canucks, George Smith, said he would rather have met Tonga, the country of his ancestors, in the last eight. Poppycock. The Wallabies desperately want revenge and have been plotting night and day the best way to achieve it.
But plotting, rather than building, has been all they have been able to do. Their pool games have left them largely untested. They, as much as England, will have to step up a gear.
On Saturday Smith provided, along with Chris Latham at full-back, a calming authority in the driving rain. The experienced duo scored a try apiece.
Australia have injury worries ahead of the England game, not least the loss of the fly-half Stephen Larkham to knee surgery. Furthermore, the full-time captain, Stirling Mortlock, has not played since 15 September as he tries to heal a part-dislocated shoulder and the back-rower David Lyons took a bad knock against Canada. A fractured left fibula puts him out of the rest of the tournament.
Doubtless the England back row will be especially welcoming to Larkham's understudy, the 21-year old Berrick Barnes. The Wallaby coach, John Connolly, speaks highly of Barnes – he would, wouldn't he? – but he was too cautious to risk him against the physical Canadians. The Wallabies, with a shallow pool of top-level talent, are always vulnerable to injuries.
In the winger Drew Mitchell they have a powerful finisher – he scored two tries against Canada – but he is not expected to make the starting side against England and if Connolly goes for a five-two replacement split of forwards and backs he may not even make the bench.
The Wallabies came to France knowing the draw would likely put them in a semi-final with New Zealand and that many fancied their chances of stopping the favourites there. The contrast to England's outlook is all too stark, but Brian Ashton's men may yet benefit from being more battle-hardened. In some key positions the green and gold shirts encase greater talent, but perhaps the sum of the parts may be greater in those clothed in white.
After his largely second-string side hit Canada with six tries and barely missed a tackle, Connolly said: "I don't think Australia are undercooked, but we will see next Saturday."
Ric Suggitt, Canada's coach, went home with just two points, from a 12-12 draw with Japan, two penalties against Australia, and the hope that he would have a job next month.
Australia: Tries Baxter, Freier, Smith, Mitchell 2, Latham; Conversions Shepherd 2; Penalties Huxley. Canada: Penalties Pritchard 2.
Australia: C Latham; C Shepherd, L Tuqiri, A Ashley-Cooper, D Mitchell; J Huxley, S Cordingley (G Gregan, 74); G Holmes, A Freier (S Hardman, 60), A Baxter, N Sharpe (P Waugh, 72), M Chisholm, H McMeniman, G Smith (capt), D Lyons (S Hoiles, 46).
Canada: D T H van der Merwe (E Fairhurst, 75); J Mensah-Coker, M Pyke, D Daypuck (N Trenkel, 67), J Pritchard; A Monro, M Williams (capt); R Snow (D Pletch, 54-72), P Riordan (A Carpenter, 46) , J Thiel, L Tait, M James (M Burak, 64), C Yukes (M Pletch, 64), D Biddle, S M Stephen (M Webb, 54).
Referee: C White (England).Reuse content