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Australia’s overworked medical staff will get no respite in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals after yet another serious injury marred the Wallabies’ 68-22 victory over Russia at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.
The makeshift Australian outfit ran in 10 tries to achieve the bonus-point win they needed to secure their quarter-final berth but failed to achieve their goal of navigating the physical encounter without further injury.
Streaking away from the defence in the second half, wing Drew Mitchell’s hamstring gave way and looks likely to end his tournament.
"Obviously he's bitterly disappointed it's happened. But he was very positive in the change rooms and all the boys rallied around him,” said captain James Horwill. "He wants us to go on and do the job we're here to do."
Coach Robbie Deans said while Mitchell’s injury was unfortunate, the team were hoping to welcome back four players from the medical room before next week’s quarter-final.
Those players include Kurtley Beale, whose reintroduction at full back would allow James O’Connor to return to the wing, and Digby Ioane, who would slot back in on the fringe to relieve Radike Samo of his temporary duties out wide.
Deans singled out the versatile Samo for praise. The 117kg loose forward surprisingly looked at home on the wing against Russia and capped off a capable performance with several strong charges and handy offloads.
"The performance of Radike Samo was remarkable," he said. "Not too many loose forwards could carry off what he did today (October 1)."
Deans had less to say about the Wallabies’ set piece. On the slippery surface of Trafalgar Park the scrum again proved fragile, conceding several penalties, and the Wallabies lost three of their own lineouts.
"We came out to be dominant in the scrums tonight. It didn't work as well as we'd hoped but we'll work hard at getting the combinations right for next week,” said prop Sekope Kepu.
Whether Australia finishes first or second in Pool C will be determined by the outcome of the Ireland-Italy clash at Otago Stadium on Sunday.
Should Ireland win, Australia will finish second on the table and probably face South Africa in their quarter-final.
But if Italy defeat Ireland, and Ireland fail to achieve two bonus points, Australia will finish top of Pool C and likely oppose Wales in the quarter-final stage.
Admitting South Africa were the more probable opposition, Deans said he was impressed with the performances of the Springboks in the tournament.
"South Africa have shown they're very much World Cup exponents. They're building nicely,” he said. “They've shown an ability to get up so the World Cup really suits their ability."
Legion of fans
Russia, whose coach Nikolay Nerush announced after the match that he would step down from the position, leave RWC 2011 without a win but have gained a legion of fans after putting in a wholehearted performance. One measure of their progress was scoring three tries on Saturday against a side that had conceded only one in the tournament prior to kick-off.
At the heart of their hard-running game was number 8 Victor Gresev, who earned his second RWC 2011 man-of-the-match award but was happy to share the honour with his teammates.
"Everyone deserves the man-of-the-match award in our team today (October 1). Vladimir Ostroushko, Denis Simplikevich or whoever you take. All the guys have played well,” he said.
With a further injury blow, continuing problems at scrum time and having allowed Russia to cross their try-line three times, some might have concerns about Australia’s chances in the quarter-finals. But not ever-optimistic prop Kepu.
“We have faith and belief in each other. That's the most important thing,” he said. “If you lose, you go home, and we're not ready to go home just yet."