Australia 55 Fiji 12: Giteau glides past Fijians to confirm Wallaby progress

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The Independent Online

Australia cantered into the quarter-finals after thrashing Fiji in Montpellier yesterday, but the Wallabies will have to tighten up before meeting either England or Tonga in Marseilles in a fortnight's time.

They did not emerge from a largely scrappy encounter unscathed, either. Scott Staniforth, the utility back, injured his right shoulder and it will be an anxious 24 hours or so before the damage can be assessed. Australia had already lost one utility back, Mark Gerrard, after their game against Japan.

The Wallaby coach, John Connolly, said: "I am pleased we won and finished top of our group, but I am not so happy with our performance. We played as individuals. We were loose in some sections of the game and mentally we weren't quite there."

The Mediterranean sun was too hot for rugby, really, but Australia were still far too hot for a second-string Fiji side who were prone to make unforced errors at critical moments. The South Sea islanders, masters of sevens and famed for their festival approach to the 15-a-side game, were shadows of their traditional selves. They had opportunities and were always prepared to counter attack, but they kept getting dragged into situations that stifled their natural inclinations.

They were not helped by an inconsistent performance from the Welsh referee, Nigel Owens, who appeared to have a blind spot where Wallaby transgressions were concerned but who was eagle-eyed when Fiji fouled. On a couple of occasions Australia were guilty of crossing – obstruction – but got away with it. The first time Fiji did so they were penalised.

Defensively the Fijians were well organised, managing to keep out the green and gold attackers for fully 17 minutes at the start, and throughout the match they made sure their opponents had to work for every one of their seven tries.

They scored two tries themselves, the second of which was a real sucker punch. Mosese Rauluni, the replacement scrum-half, darted through the middle of a line-out before releasing the blind-side flanker, Aca Ratuva, for the score. Their first try came from the left winger, Isoa Neivua.

They could have scored more, but as heavy as the forwards were and as hard as they laboured all afternoon, the Fijians lacked enough pace and punch out wide to make proper use of what ball they did win and they did not possess the equivalent of Matt Giteau in midfield. He began the game at inside centre and finished it as acting captain and scrum-half.

Giteau, making his 50th appearance for Australia, opened the scoring by rounding off a fine move sparked by Wycliff Palu. The No 8 had an immense game, using his weight and power to win ball and clear rucks like a demented bulldozer.

There was a hat-trick of tries for the winger Drew Mitchell, taking his tally in the tournament to five, although had a touch judge or the referee spotted the forward pass early in the move for Mitchell and the Wallabies' final try he would have had only two.

The rookie fly-half Berrick Barnes had another fine game, his kicking out of hand near perfect, his options spot-on. He also knocked over a drop goal early in the second half.

Giteau failed with a couple of conversions, but even so he finished the game with 27 points and Australia's total try-count rose to 24 from their first three matches.

Australia: Tries Giteau 2, Mitchell 3, Ashley-Cooper, Hoiles; Conversions Giteau 4; Penalties Giteau 3; Drop goal Barnes. Fiji: Tries Neivua, Ratuva; Conversions Bai.

Australia: C Latham; D Mitchell, A Ashley-Cooper, M Giteau, L Tuqiri; B Barnes, G Gregan (capt); M Dunning, S Moore, G Shepherdson, M Chisholm, D Vickerman, R Elsom, P Waugh, W Palu. Replacements: S Cordingley for Gregan, 59; G Holmes for

Dunning, 59; A Freier for Moore, 59; H McMeniman for Elsom, 59; S Staniforth for Barnes, 65; J Huxley for Staniforth, 70; S Hoiles for Palu, 70.

Fiji: N Ligairi; V Delasau, M Kunavore, S Bai (capt), I Neivua; W Luveniyali, J Daunivucu; A Yalayalatabua, V Sauturaga, H Qiodravu, I Domolailai, I Rawaqa, N Talei, A Ratuva, J Qovu. Replacements: S Rabeni for Luveniyali, 40; M Rauluni for Daunivucu, 40; W Lewaravu, 40; J Railomo for Yalayalayabua, 62; S Koyamaibole for Talei, 66; G Lovobalavu for Kunavore, 67.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).