Johnson given fillip by Australia's front-row worries

Australia 49 Fiji 3
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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson's England have been granted a major boost ahead of the opening Test with Australia next weekend after Ben Alexander stretched the Wallabies' front-row injury crisis towards breaking point.

The loose-head prop will miss Saturday's Test in Perth after damaging knee ligaments in the second half of this comprehensive victory over Fiji here.

The injury overshadowed a seven-try thrashing by the southern hemisphere giants, with their head coach, Robbie Deans, already facing a lengthy casualty list which includes front-rowers Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson and Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Al Baxter and Matt Dunning are also unavailable, leaving the uncapped Ben Daley, who has been out since March with a torn bicep, to step into the fray for his Test debut.

In fact, the situation is so concerning for Australia, the Queensland Reds rookie will be forced to sit out England's tour opener against the Australian Barbarians on Tuesday to prevent the risk of further injury.

Deans said: "Ben [Alexander] has picked up an injury which will keep him out for a few weeks. It looks like a grade two medial ligament.

"Ben Daley is ahead of schedule in terms of his original prognosis and hopefully we won't be exposed."

On the field, the Wallabies brushed aside the South Sea Islanders in their first Test match of the year with full-back Kurtley Beale and Digby Ioane both scoring a brace of tries.

Beale began and finished the try-scoring while Richard Brown, Quade Cooper and the replacement Drew Mitchell also cashed in to touch down against a weakened Fiji side, whose ill-discipline saw Emosi Vucago and Graham Dewes sent to the sin-bin.

But Deans admits his new-look side must increase their sharpness and level of performance against Johnson's tourists. Deans added: "We expect England to be very physical and direct. They are a big side and we will know what to expect. Martin has already told us how he is going to approach the tour and he has said it's an important trip for them. We have Tuesday first and that will be a good indicator into what we will face.

"But we are happy with the performance and it was 80 minutes of rugby we needed. We will have to go up a gear next weekend."

Australia: K Beale; D Ioane, R Horne (D Mitchell, 21-32), M Giteau, A Ashley-Cooper (D Mitchell, 54); Q Cooper, L Burgess; B Alexander (S Ma'afu, 62), H Edmonds (S Faingaa, 56), S Ma'afu (P Cowan, 52), D Mumm, N Sharpe, R Elsom (capt), R Brown, D Pocock (M Hodgson, 62).

Fiji: T Rawaqa; S Bobo, R Caucaunibuca (N Nadolo, 65), S Radidi (R Ratu, 54), T Nagusa; W Luveniyali (V Buatava, 67), E Vucago; C Ma'afu (G Dewes, 72), T Talemaitoga (V Veikoso, 74), D Manu (capt), D Waqaniburotu, S Qaraniqio, A Wise (R Nasiga, 54; C Ma'afu 78) , J Qovu, J Naikadawa (M Volau, 7-16, 74; C Ma'afu, 77-79).

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ire).