Australia won their first Test of the season 49-3 as Fiji failed to capitalise on an error ridden performance from the hosts.
Heavy dew in Canberra proved a leveller in the opening exchanges, and the Fijians repeatedly slid the ball along the turf with grubbers and chip kicks to give the new-look Australian back three headaches. Subsequent handling errors from the hosts kept Fiji in the running for a scoreless opening 10.
However, Australia’s forwards began to find ascendancy over their less experienced counterparts, culminating in Kurtley Beale’s first Test try in the 11th minute.
Debutant Rob Horne fell a metre short six minutes later as Cooper continued to dictate play with a series of inside balls and quick passes. Australia played a running game, while Fiji kicked away a lot of possession (22 kicks to their 25 passes and 21 runs).
Australia’s attempts to dominate the half proved fruitless, with captain Rocky Elsom and then hooker Huia Edmonds coughing up clear tries.
Quade Cooper’s influence was felt on the stroke of half-time when his inside pass to Horne saw the centre fall 5m short. Adam Ashley-Cooper was first to the ball, clearing it to Richard Brown and the eighthman went over to put Australia 14-3 up at the break.
Jim Williams, Australia’s forwards coach, told his side to be more direct in the second half, and when Cooper strolled over three minutes in, the message appeared to have hit home.
What followed was a blowout, albeit a sloppy one. Australia scored 35 unanswered points in the half , with their own errors doing more to stem the flow of points than the Fijian defence.
Digby Ioane scored in the 50th minute, which was followed by Drew Mitchell’s try 13 minutes later. It marked the first time Australia had strung together more than seven phases, an indication of the game’s discontinuity. Ioane crossed for his second three minutes later, to make it 42-3.
It was only between the 70th and 75th minute that Fiji gave the hosts a push, having 99% of possession and camping in the Australian 22. However, when this ended with a yellow card (the visitor’s second of the match; the first being Emosi Vucago’s in the 53rd) for punching to Graham Dewes, Australia pounced.
Beale crossed for the second time with three minutes remaining and Giteau kicked his sixth conversion in six attempts (Cooper converted the second try when Giteau was down injured).
Australia will be lamenting the loss of Ben Alexander, who left the field injured midway through the second half. He looks to be in doubt for the first Test against England next weekend with what could be a long-term leg injury.
By Rory Keohane