Australia overwhelms Uruguay after slow start

Reuters, AFP-JIJI, AP

Two-time world champion Australia overcame a sloppy start to crush Uruguay 45-10 on Saturday, forging toward the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals with some exhilarating running rugby despite its problems with high tackles resurfacing at Oita Stadium.

Wrecking ball center Tevita Kuridrani and Dane Haylett-Petty each crossed twice each, with teenage winger Jordan Petaia sparkling with a try in his debut under the domed roof.

Scrumhalf Will Genia and prop James Slipper also grabbed five-pointers for the Wallabies, who shrugged off the heartbreak of their 29-25 defeat to Wales last Sunday with flair and determination.

Australia had terrible trouble getting low enough in its tackling, with both lock Adam Coleman and loose forward Lukhan Salakaia-Loto given yellow cards for going high in an eventful opening half.

But the Wallabies were able to mitigate the damage with three tries to lead 19-3 at the break before throwing down the hammer in a dominant second half.

The result put Australia back on track for the quarterfinals, moving the Wallabies at the top of Pool D ahead of second-place Wales and putting pressure on the Welsh to beat Fiji at the same venue on Wednesday.

Australia coach Michael Cheika was disappointed with his team’s third slow start for the tournament.

“That’s three games now, a little bit off the pace at the start. I’ll have to work on my pre-match speeches,” Cheika said.

“(Uruguay) are big-hearted and they take it to you and they’ve obviously improved since the last World Cup.”

It was a tough day for Uruguay, desperate to impress the powers of global rugby, but it was rewarded with a late try to Manuel Diana in the final minutes.

“I think in the first half we did a really good job but Australia are a really big and fast team. We have to get better for our next match against Wales,” said Andres Vilaseca, who stood in for benched regular skipper Juan Gaminara.

The South Americans will take heart from not conceding as many points as they did in the 2015 World Cup, when they lost 65-3 to the Wallabies.

Australia, with 12 changes to the starting side that lost to Wales, entered the game with some concern and a touch of farce.

Replacement back James O’Connor was withdrawn due to a thigh injury prior to the game and was replaced by Samu Kerevi on the bench.

No. 8 Dempsey and Salakaia-Loto were forced to swap jersey numbers due to an “embroidery mishap” in the World Cup debut of the team’s mainly green indigenous jersey, though both played their starting positions.

A stroke of fortunate luck created Australia’s first try, with a ricochet off the boot of Kurtley Beale taking the ball to the tryline.

With the defense scrambling, Australia whipped the ball cross-field where unmarked winger Haylett-Petty jogged over at the right corner for an easy score in the sixth minute.

Uruguay battled back, with Felipe Berchesi slotting a penalty when captain Michael Hooper put a high tackle on Nicolas Freitas as the winger darted toward the line.

A minute later, Australia was down a man, when Coleman was given a yellow card for also going high on fullback Rodrigo Silva.

The action bypassed Petaia in the opening quarter, but he made an impact with his first touch, rumbling the ball toward the line, then linking up with Beale a moment later to sidestep two defenders and pirouette over the line for a 24th minute try.

Petaia is Australia’s youngest ever World Cup player at age 19.

Beale escaped a yellow for a high tackle but Salakaia-Loto was not so lucky, being sent off for what seemed a less egregious offense a few minutes after Coleman had returned to the field.

Again, Australia brushed off the setback, with the powerfully built Petaia bursting through on the left wing and offloading to Kuridrani for a try at the half-hour mark.

Uruguay would not lie down, though, and a huge roar echoed under the domed roof when center Tomas Inciarte charged down the right wing for a turnover try a minute before halftime.

It was a fleeting moment of triumph for the South Americans, however, with the try canceled by a video review which showed Diana was off-side when he plucked the ball from the ruck.

Australia, which is No. 6 in the world rankings, came out with renewed intent and needed only six minutes to claim the bonus point, with Kuridrani waltzing through a huge hole at midfield to cross near the right corner.

The game then descended into a training run for the Wallabies as green and gold jerseys began punching holes through the Uruguayan line at will.