The Wallabies are up and running at Rugby World Cup 2011, with Quade Cooper orchestrating an impressive 32-6 victory over Italy in their Pool C opener in Auckland.
New Zealand’s ‘Public Enemy No.1’ set up three of Australia’s four tries after the sides were locked 6-6 at halftime in an entertaining encounter despite slippery conditions at North Harbour Stadium.
The bonus-point win over a rugged outfit that had upset France in this year’s Tri Nations was the confident start to Rugby World Cup 2011 Australia craved.
And Cooper was the star of the show, setting the Wallabies alight with some brilliant footwork and three delightful touches that sapped the life out of the Italian challenge after a spirited first 50 minutes.
Goalkicking winger James O’Connor also had a day out, returning off the bench from a suspension for sleeping through Australia’s World Cup squad announcement to add to impressive highlights reel in Tests against the Azzurri.
Along with Cooper, O’Connor made his Test debut against Italy three years ago in Padova, then scored three tries against the Azzurri in his maiden Test start the following year.
On Sunday, O’Connor went within a metre of scoring with his first touch of the ball after coming on in the 48th minute.
Prop Ben Alexander had the distinction of netting Australia’s opening try of the tournament from the following phase, but O’Connor didn’t have to wait long – he crossed nine minutes later after trailing Cooper on the inside.
O’Connor also relieved Cooper of the goalkicking duties and finished the game with a personal tally of 11 points from his try and three conversions from four attempts.
Wingers Adam Ashley-Cooper and Digby Ioane were also beneficiaries of Cooper’s sublime short passing game, each bagging five-pointers as the Wallabies turned on the style in the final half hour.
The Australian pack excelled, with skipper James Horwill named man of the match, his second-rower partner Dan Vickerman also having a powerful game, along with No.8 Radike Samo.
The Wallabies front row of Alexander, Sekope Kepu and hooker Stephen Moore outpointed their respected Italian rivals, while Rocky Elsom and David Pocock were typically industrious.
The heavens opened right on kick-off, making for slippery conditions, before the rain cleared and sunshine broke out.
Cooper was in the thick of the action from the outset.
He was roundly booed every time he lined up a shot at goal, with the non-Australian section of the crowd roaring in delight when he fluffed his first penalty attempt in the fourth minute.
But he retained his composure to coolly slot two penalties in the 19th and 29th minutes to give Australia a 6-0 lead.
Cooper also saved a try with some desperate clean-up work after Italian fullback Andrea Masi went perilously close to seizing on a clever kick behind the Wallabies defence from five-eighth Luciano Orquera.
Cooper’s teammates often say they’re not sure what their playmaker will do next and, indeed, the unpredictable No.10 was penalised for obstruction after a weaving 40-metre run.
Centre Anthony Faingaa accidentally took out an Italian defender while trying to support his five-eighth, unsure which line to run to link with Cooper.
Two penalty goals in the final two minutes of the half from winger Mirco Bergamasco locked the scores up, with Cooper responsible for the second when he was somewhat harshly pinged for not releasing the ball after some more clean-up work at the back.
But he more than atoned after the interval, with the Wallabies dominant in the second half.
“We didn’t help ourselves in the first half. We were a little bit impatient and wanting that to come and overplayed our hand in the way we attacked,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said.
“We got the balance of our attack a little bit more effective in the second half so we were able to build more pressure and the Italians took some breaking down.”
Italy coach Nick Mallett accepted that Australia were just too good in the second half, but was happy with how his side contained them for the first 50 minutes.
“When they do get quick front foot ball they are a very difficult side to defend against,” he said.
“We had a couple of opportunities in the second half particularly from a push-over try when the ball wasn’t controlled at the back of the scrum, but all in all I’m pretty happy.”
by Buford Balony