Australia returned to winning ways after their shock loss to Ireland at the Rugby World Cup after sweeping past the USA 67-5 in Wellington on Friday.
The Wallabies punished some weak defence from the Americans (responsible for 24 missed tackles) by running in eleven tries, with wing Adam Ashley-Cooper bagging a hat-trick.
However, the bonus-point Pool C victory could come at a major cost for the already injury-hit Australians after losing Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Wycliff Palu, Pat McCabe as well as Anthony Fainga’a to injury.
The USA started the match with plenty of promise, dominating proceedings with a fearless approach that caught the Wallabies by surprise. That was until Australia clipped the high-flying Eagles wings with two quick-fire tries in the 8th and 11th minutes respectively.
First Rob Horne opened the scoring after a Quade Cooper break-out saw the pivot link with Kurtley Beale who then threw a pass to his former Waratahs’team-mate on his outside for a superb try in the corner. Beale failed to add the extras.
Next over the line was ex-Wallaby skipper Rocky Elsom, who - after exposing some sloppy defence from the Americans - dotted down to hand his team a ten-point lead. Again, Beale was off-target with the conversion.
Beale’s two misses didn’t seem to matter though, with the crowd anticipating plenty more tries to come from the Tri-Nations champs.
However, up until the half-hour mark it was all the USA as Eddie O’Sullivan’s troops marched towards Australia’s tryline and set up camp. Number eight JJ Gagiano then dived over from a 5m scrum to bring out the loudest roar from the stands, who were clearly in support of the underdogs.
Eagles fly-half Nese Malifa shaved the right-hand upright with his conversion attempt, but by trailing Australia by just five points (10-5), the USA looked like they meant business. Or so we thought.
With their tails up, the USA launched another attack at the Wallabies and a second try looked to be on the cards after Kevin Swiryn broke clear, only for the winger to lose possession in the tackle. Elsom counter-attacked close to his own line, before unleashing Adam Ashley-Cooper on his outside who bounced off another weak tackle before passing inside to the supporting Beale for a length-of-the-field try.
Cooper took over the kicking duties and was successful from bang in front. From then on in, the Wallabies took the game by the scruff of its neck and - as expected - began to pile on the points with centre Fainga’a going over for Australia’s bonus-point try before half-time.
Cooper added to Australia’s first-half kicking woes (four tries, three missed conversions) and the 22-5 scoreline at the break gave the Eagles a wee bit of respectability.
It wouldn’t last though, as the fired-up Wallabies started the second half in the same fashion they ended the first, after Drew Mitchell marked his return to Test rugby with a well-worked try.
McCabe proved to be a worthy replacement for Horne when he followed suit with Australia’s sixth touchdown. The seventh, eighth and ninth tries deservedly came through Ashley-Cooper in a devastating six-minute spell.
Firstly the winger showed his pace to score on the outside, he then made the most of turnover ball to stroll in before completing his hat-trick as he supported a superb breakaway.
With Beale nursing an injury off the field, Berrick Barnes took his chance to impress with both hands - setting up McCabe as well as Ashley-Cooper while showing coach Robbie Deans he could be Australia’s answer with the tee after knocking over four of his five conversions.
With the Americans fading badly Faingaa added to his tally as he slid over in the corner - and things got worse for the minnows as Blaine Scully was sin-binned.
Replacement number eight Radiko Samo scored Australia’s final try two minutes from time before Faingaa copped a knee in the head in the last tackle of the game.
Man of the match: Count them… one, two, three - it has to be Adam Ashley-Cooper, who proved to be a threat with ball in hand throughout when he wasn’t crossing the whitewash.
Moment of the match: Rocky Elsom’s counter-attacking run that ended in Kurtley Beale’s try proved to be the beginning of the end for the Americans.
Villain of the match: A yellow card to USA full-back Blaine Scully was the only mishap in an otherwise incident-free spectacle.
Tries: Horne, Elsom, Beale, Fainga’a 2, Mitchell, McCabe, Ashley-Cooper 3, Samo
Cons: Cooper 2, Barnes 4
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Anthony Fainga’a, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Ben McCalman, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Dan Vickerman, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Pat McCabe.
USA: 15 Blaine Scully, 14 Colin Hawley, 13 Tai Enosa, 12 Junior Sifa, 11 Kevin Swiryn, 10 Nese Malifa, 9 Tim Usasz (c), 8 JJ Gagiano, 7 Pat Danahy, 6 Inaki Basauri, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 Scott LaValla, 3 Eric Fry, 2 Phil Thiel, 1 Shawn Pittman.
Replacements: 16 Brian McClenahan, 17 Matekitonga Moeakiola, 18 Louis Stanfill, 19 Nic Johnson, 20 Mike Petri, 21 Roland Suniula, 22 Chris Wyles.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)