BIRMINGHAM: As warm-ups for the main event go, this was more pointless than the scoreline suggests. Not many, if any, of Australia’s line-up against Uruguay will start against England on Saturday – and if they did England would hardly be quaking at this display, nor indeed would Wales.
Australia were about as ragged as any side racking up 11 tries could be, particularly in the first half. After 25 minutes, indeed, the score against the Uruguayan amateurs was 12-3. But this was a thankless assignment. The second-string Wallabies knew it might prove useful to win by a lot, which they also knew they were going to. That is some way short of a pressing directive. This match was about as far removed a phenomenon from the other one in this pool the night before as it is possible to conceive.
Uruguay were hopelessly outgunned physically. They looked just the kind of team we have all played in, where most of the players are a good half foot shorter than the Wallaby second-row Will Skelton. But they were feisty and eager, just as any good underdog should be. It would be stretching it to say they came close to scoring, but they had a couple of goes at driving attacking lineouts deep in Australia’s 22. Neither effort went anywhere, and the ball was turned over.
Are we really going to describe all the tries Australia scored in the meantime? Sean McMahon started the rattling of the scoreboard in the seventh minute, when he broke off from a lineout and drive to canter home. Joe Tomane was over a couple of minutes later from Quade Cooper’s reverse flick, but there stretched a desert of impotence from there – with Australia failing to score for nearly 20 minutes of fumbling listlessness. In that time Cooper saw yellow for a dangerous tackle. It was an unconvincing day for Australia’s troubled genius. His goal-kicking was pretty ropey, missing six conversions out of 11. By the time he returned from his spell in the bin, Uruguay had landed a penalty for that vaguely competitive scoreline mentioned earlier.
“Game on,” a cynic might have shouted, but any hope for Uruguay was predictably short-lived. Within a minute of Cooper’s return, Dean Mumm was worked clear down the right, and on the half-hour Australia had the bonus point when some nice handling sent Henry Speight over. Ben McCalman’s turn to score five minutes before the break stretched the half-time lead to 31-3.
A brace of Drew Mitchell tries after the break took the winger to the top of Australia’s chart of World Cup try-scorers, before McCalman was sent clear again on the hour for Australia’s eighth. Tries nine and 10 followed in the final quarter, the 10th, by Matt Toomua after Cooper’s break, scoring high on artistic merit. Uruguay came closest to scoring a try then, during a frantic scramble following an Aussie fumble on his own tryline. It came to nought, and Tevita Kuridrani duly finished off proceedings with Australia’s 11th.
When the dust had settled, the margin of victory stood at 62, which may yet prove significant. Wales’s margin against the same opponents was 45. England will fancy their chances of improving on both come the final round. But will it matter? The real stuff resumes next weekend.