The Wallabies hit the South African ground running almost as slowly as England and before they found their stride against the Romanians at Stellenbosch there was further evidence against expecting their retention of the Webb Ellis trophy.
In the end, though, it worked out so well that the events of the last 20 minutes argued to the contrary. Having worn out Romania's physical challenge, Australia cut loose with a brilliant burst of four tries which were more a cause for comfort and relief than outright celebration.
"It's not a performance that will win us a world championship but it's a step forward," Bob Dwyer, Australia's coach, said. "In the first half we were frightened to play but once we got our confidence back we got it together."
There is a warning here for those who have ceased believing in the Wallabies. They calculatedly fielded a weakened side, omitting Little, Campese, Lynagh and Kearns, and now go to their quarter-final in Cape Town next Sunday with confidence renewed.
That said, it was one of the more familiar Wallabies who generated this upsurge in Australian fortunes. This was one of John Eales's great performances, and not just for the obvious reason that he converted each of the four second-half tries from a wide angle as if he were Michael Lynagh himself and not a 6ft 6in lock. Eales is the game's finest all-round athlete - which is why he was also such a dominant figure at the line-out and around the field.
Romania took the lead with Ilie Ivanciuc's drop goal but contrived to reach half-time 14-3 behind despite having spent more than the Australians of the first half in attack.
But once Michael Foley had scored a try and Joe Roff, a wing sensation at the age of 19, another Romania's cause became hopeless. As they knew they would be going home, it was not surprising there was a limit - one hour, to be precise - to their resistance. Matthew Burke relinquished the kicking in Eales's favour and was one of the late try-scorers along with Roff for a second time, Damian Smith and David Wilson.
AUSTRALIA: M Burke (New South Wales); D Smith, D Herbert, T Horan (all Queensland), J Roff (Australian Capital Territory); S Bowen (NSW), G Gregan (ACT); A Daly (NSW), M Foley (Queensland), E McKenzie (NSW), R McCall (capt), J Eales, I Tabua (both Queensland), T Gavin (NSW), D Wilson (Queensland). Replacement: P Slattery (Queensland) for Gregan, 71. Temporary substitutes: D Manu (NSW) for Wilson, 29-33; M Pini (Queensland) for Herbert, 29-36.
ROMANIA: V Brici (Farul Constanta); L Colceriu (Steaua Bucharest), N Racean, R Gontineac (both Universitate Cluj), G Solomie (Timisoara); I Ivanciuc (Suceava), V Flutur (Universitate Cluj); G Leonte (Vienne), I Negreci (CFR Constanta), G Vlad (Dinamo Bucharest), S Ciorascu (Auch), C Cojocariu (Bayonne), A Guranescu (Dinamo Bucharest), T Brinza (Universitate Cluj, capt), S Gealapu (Steaua Bucharest). Replacements: A Lungu (Castres) for Gontineac, 56; V Tufa (Dinamo Bucharest) for Negreci, 73.
Referee: N Saito (Japan).Reuse content