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23 Sep 2007 16:52
The Wallabies claimed top spot in group B with a fitful 55-12 win over Fiji to lock up a quarterfinal place at the Rugby World Cup at Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier on Sunday.
The Australians always had the game under control, but it was an unsatisfying, error-strewn performance against the second-string Fijians, running in seven tries to two and clinching a scoring bonus point before the hour.
Fiji were the only other unbeaten team in the pool with the Australians, but with 11 team changes they were more focused on their make-or-break game with Wales in Nantes next weekend.
The Wallabies join South Africa in the quarterfinals and will play either England or Tonga, who play each other next weekend.
Matt Giteau, playing in his 50th Test, was man of the match for the Wallabies with 27 points from two tries, four conversions and three penalties, while winger Drew Mitchell scored a hat-trick of tries.
The Wallabies looked lethargic for most of the opening half, but still went to half-time leading 22-5 after three tries, two of them to inside centre Giteau.
The Fijians looked lively in spurts, but it was Giteau who opened the scoring in the 17th minute after lead-up work from Wycliff Palu and Lote Tuqiri.
Young flyhalf Berrick Barnes was delivering some beautiful passes, but the Australians lacked penetration out wide, clearly missing the thrust of injured skipper and outside centre Stirling Mortlock.
The Wallabies struggled to clear the ball from line-out wins and mauls, but increased their advantage in the 31st minute when a Chris Latham grubber enabled Mitchell to dive on the crumbs and score for 17-0.
Fijian hooker Vereniki Sauturaga was penalised twice for taking too long for throwing into the line-out before Giteau claimed his second try four minutes out from the interval. Giteau spun out of a tackle to plunge over after a concerted Wallabies attack to push the lead out to 22-0, but the Fijians hit back right on half-time.
The Australians were slow to recover from a high kick and after recycling the ball, the Fijians flung it out to winger Isoa Neivua who carried over three tacklers to score in the left-hand corner for his team’s first try.
The Wallabies were more content to build their lead rather than take risks, and a Giteau penalty and a Barnes drop goal increase the lead to 28-5 in the minutes after the resumption.
Skipper Mosese Rauluni came on after half-time and surged through an embarrassing hole in the Australian line-out to send openside flanker Aca Ratuva racing over unopposed with Seremaia Bai converting from wide out for 28-12 after 46 minutes.
Giteau steadied with a 50th-minute penalty to boos from the 32Â 000-strong crowd looking for the Wallabies to attack more rather than take the conservative approach.
Quick hands from Giteau put centre partner Adam Ashley-Cooper over for the bonus-point fourth try on 57 minutes and a 38-12 lead.
With the match in their keeping, coach John Connolly cleared his replacement bench for the last 20 minutes.
Scott Staniforth only last a few minutes as a replacement before he came off with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
The margin blew out in the final 10 minutes with Mitchell scoring two more tries and replacement forward Stephen Hoiles crossing.—Sapa-AFP
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