Australia 91 Japan 3: Rocky horror for Japan but Wallabies have Gerrard scare

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The Independent Online

In the end it was a rout, there is no other word for it, a 13-try blitz and a record score for Australia against Japan, but this opening Pool B match was tinged with worry for the Wallabies.

Mark Gerrard had been on for just two minutes, having replaced Wallaby captain Stirling Mortlock, when he had to be helped off with what appeared to be a serious left knee injury.

They were so far ahead by then, though, that Australia did not bother to send on a replacement for Gerrard and indeed even managed to score three more tries through Chris Latham, debutant Berrick Barnes and Adam Freier.

Japan's willingness to counter-attack and their courage in defence coupled with an over-casual approach by Australia kept the score down in the first half. But Australia adopted the bully-boy routine of heavyweight drives rather than runs before the interval, and that produced their first touchdown when lock Nathan Sharpe got on the end of one long, hard maul, but overall it was not an easy journey. The Japanese were always prepared to counter-attack, their speedy wings Hirotoki Onozawa and the electrically quick Tomoki Kitagawa combining promisingly in the opening minutes only to be thwarted. But gradually Wallaby experience and superiority in all areas began to tell. Flanker Rocky Elsom raced in for two tries before half-time and completed his hat-trick 57 seconds after the start of the second half.

Then came the flood. It was a veritable procession for the rest of the half with Wallaby players queuing up to breach the Japanese lines. The poor Japanese, who had not fielded their strongest side for this match anyway, could do nothing. They watched helplessly as Adam Ashley-Cooper, Latham and Barnes – put away for the first of his two touchdowns by scrum-half George Gregan – replacement winger Drew Mitchell and flanker George Smith all piled in for the feast.

Mitchell also picked up a second try, while Mortlock finished with seven conversions and two penalties for a tally of 20 points, Matt Giteau adding the three late conversions.

Australia: C Latham; A Ashley-Cooper, S Mortlock (capt), M Giteau, L Tuqiri; S Larkham, G Gregan; M Dunning, S Moore, A Baxter, N Sharpe, D Vickerman, R Elsom, G Smith, W Palu. Replacements: D Mitchell for Ashley-Cooper 59; M Gerrard for Mortlock 69-71; B Barnes for Larkham 55; G Shepherdson for Dunning 68; A Freier for Moore 68; G Shepherdson for Baxter 51-68; H McMeniman for Sharpe 51; S Hoiles for Palu 68.

Japan: T Kusumi; T Kitagawa, K Taira, N Oto, H Onozawa; K Ono, Y Yatomi; M Yamamoto, T Inokuchi, R Yamamura, T Kumagae, L Vatuvei, T Watanabe, T Sasaki (capt), H Kiso. Replacements: H Makiri for Watanabe 9-12; H Makiri for Sasaki 49.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).