By Nick Mulvenney
FUKUROICITY, Japan (Reuters) – Australia coach Michael Cheika gave his forwards a pass mark but said his backs had plenty to work on as they stumbled towards a likely Rugby World Cup quarter-final against England with a hard-fought 27-8 victory over Georgia on Friday.
The Wallabies enjoyed overwhelming domination in possession and territory at Shizuoka Stadium in their final Pool D match but led only 17-8 going into the last six minutes against a determined Georgia side.
Cheika said it was just the sort of match he had been hoping for his forwards and thought the Wallabies pack had delivered in the trenches against physical opponents.
“I thought it was a good challenge, I thought our forwards stepped right up to it, we know how effective the Georgian scrum can be and I think we handled it pretty well,” he said.
“We scored a maul try, probably could have done a bit better on a couple of those if we stayed more disciplined, our lineout worked, so a good hit-out for the forwards.
“A few things we need to work on out the back but we’ll get to that this week.”
Australia would have perhaps expected to have scored more tries than the four they did — two adding a gloss to the scoreline in the last five minutes — but Cheika thought it was all fixable before the quarter-finals.
“We’re the lowest kicking team in international rugby, we like to keep the ball in hand, we knew the conditions were going to be tricky and I think we did drop a bit too much ball,” he said.
“We carried a bit too much ball on our chest and in the conditions that’s going to happen and you are going to get more ball slipping out, it’s not like they were clean drops.
“But I believe our carrying was strong, we just didn’t have the finishing touch on a lot of stuff. So we’ll definitely need to put that on and we’ll be ready to take the opportunities next week.”
Australia could still win the pool if Wales suffer an extraordinary upset against Uruguay on Sunday but Cheika was clearly already looking forward to renewing his rivalry with England coach Eddie Jones.
Fullback Kurtley Beale made an early exit from the match after taking a blow to the head in the 14th minute but Cheika did not sound overly concerned about his availability for the quarter-finals.
“We’ll go through the return to play protocols, we’ve got an eight-day turnaround so plenty of time for all that,” he said.
“He’s feeling good in the dressing room right now so that’s good, we’ll just take it as it comes.”
(Editing by Toby Davis)