Australia tops Russia at Rugby World Cup
Australia's woes at the Rugby World Cup aren't quite finished yet, conceding three tries to the modest attack of Russia in the 68-22 win on Saturday and losing winger Drew Mitchell to a hamstring injury that could end his tournament.
The Wallabies scored 10 tries but only won the second half 21-17 in wet conditions at Trafalgar Park in a disjointed display against the World Cup novices.
Australia had secured a bonus point for scoring four tries by the 15th minute, which could be important in the quarter-finals context. If Italy beats Ireland on Sunday and doesn't concede two bonus points, Australia will top Pool C and avoid defending champion South Africa in the quarter-finals.
"Overall we're happy to get the win," Australia captain James Horwill said. "At the back end, things didn't go the way we wanted them to.
"We knew they'd come out with a very spirited performance, and they did that. That was the last game of their first World Cup, so we knew they'd be very spirited. Full credit to them, they've done their country very proud."
Mitchell, David Pocock and Berrick Barnes all crossed twice, with Ben McCalman, Stephen Moore, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Salesi Ma'afu also scoring.
McCalman scored the best of them in the 12th minute. On the day of the Aussie Rules Australian Footballl League grand final in Melbourne, Quade Cooper punt-kicked a floating pass to Radike Samo, with the ball then going through the hands of Luke Burgess, Nathan Sharpe and back through Cooper before McCalman strolled over the line.
James O'Connor kicked nine from 10 attempts at goal, many of them from the sideline, to total 18 points.
The biggest downside was the left hamstring injury to Mitchell in the second half. The winger, who had only just made the Wallabies squad after dislocating his ankle and breaking a bone in his leg during the Super 15 season, pulled up suddenly after reaching down to regather a loose ball and had to be replaced.
That exposed Australia's injury toll further — replace scrumhalf Nick Phipps went onto the wing on the opposite side of the field to 35-year-old Samo, who is usually a No. 8.
Russia achieved something Italy and Ireland failed to do: score a try against Australia. Not just one, either.
Wingers Vladimir Ostroushko and Denis Simplikevich and replacement flyhalf Konstantin Rachkov joined United States flanker J.J. Gagiano as the only players to have crossed the Wallabies' line at the tournament so far.
The result was never in doubt, with most interest coming from how Pocock fared in his first match since the 32-6 opening win over Italy after recovering a back injury and the combination between Cooper and Barnes in midfield.
Pocock was imperious before being replaced at halftime, running freely in the loose and quick to the breakdown. Similarly, Cooper and Barnes looked effective as a partnership in mixing up their passing and running options well, against admittedly very modest opposition.
Although it was Cooper's cutout pass in the 60th minute that was intercepted by Simplikevich on halfway for his runaway try.
The scrum continue to cause trouble for the Wallabies, who lost a tighthead. New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence also penalized the front row for two scrummaging penalties, ruling James Slipper and Ma'afu responsible when the setpiece collapsed.
Lawrence was the referee who penalized the Wallabies five times for scrum infringements in the upset 15-6 loss to Ireland on Sept. 17.
Tighthead prop Sekope Kepu and Slipper at loosehead played on the opposite sides of the scrum from their preferred positions, until Kepu was replaced in the 31st by Ma'afu.
The lineout was also an area of concern, the Australians losing three of 10 throws against opposition who were taught a lesson in that facet by the U.S.
The experiment of playing Samo on the right wing didn't completely backfire, especially in the first half. He linked well with O'Connor when the fullback injected himself into the backline for the Russian defence. He saw less ball after the break.
The Wallabies led 47-5 at halftime by scoring seven tries but struggled after the break as rain made the ball greasy and the turf slippery.
The Russians' willingness to attack in the last match of their maiden World Cup was rewarded by tries to Simplikevich and Rachkov, who also landed a dropped goal.
"We said in the second half we had nothing to lose, so we really tried to hold the ball and give it to the backs, and we were good enough to get the three tries," fullback Vasily Artemyev said. "We were surprised at the pace of the game initially, we don't have too much experience at this level. But we put things right in the second half and we deserved three tries."