Ireland beat Italy 36-6 in Dunedin to set up a quarter-final showdown with Wales in Wellington.
This result means the Wallabies finish second in Pool C and will play the Springboks next Sunday, also in Wellington, with the other two quarter-finals – England vs France and New Zealand vs Argentina – taking place in Auckland.
Italy came into this match needing an upset win to progress to the play-offs, but two Irish tries in the space of five minutes early in the second half shattered that dream.
First, winger Tommy Bowe sliced through a gaping hole in the Italy defence and sent captain Brian O’Driscoll away on his inside. Then Gordon D’Arcy burst through the midfield to take play back into Italy’s 22 and the ball was sent wide to winger Keith Earls, who dived over in the left-hand corner. Ronan O’Gara, who had an outstanding night with the boot, slotted both conversions.
The Irish should have been awarded a penalty try with two minutes to go when Bowe was tackled without the ball in Italy’s in-goal area, but Earls scored his second soon after to round off an emphatic win.
Ireland had led just 9-6 at half-time, but were unlucky to have a try disallowed when referee Jonathan Kaplan incorrectly ruled that flank Sean O’Brien’s pass had gone forward to Bowe, whose first touch went backwards before he regathered the ball.
However, the big talking point of the first half came in the 22nd minute when TV replays clearly showed Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini eye-gouging Ireland loosehead Cian Healy. But none of the officials saw it and the Irish were penalised for retaliation.
Minutes before that incident, Italy had come close to scoring but their driving maul was collapsed by Paul O’Connell, who was lucky not to be yellow carded. Martin Castrogiovanni then had a crack at the line only to be tackled inches short.
The Italy tighthead was in top form and his injury late in the first half was a massive setback for his side considering how his loosehead Salvatore Perugini was struggling against Mike Ross.
By Simon Borchardt