Rugby: All eyes on England for Wallabies

BORDEAUX - Australia insisted they won't be taking troubled England lightly when the pair meet in the rugby World Cup quarterfinals in Marseille next week.

England clinched their place in the knockout phase after beating Tonga 36-20 on Friday to avoid becomming the first reigning champions to fail to make the last eight.

Australia completed their domination of Pool B on Saturday as they cruised to a 37-6 win over Canada.

But despite England's earlier 36-0 thrashing at the hands of South Africa, and their poor form since winning the World Cup in 2003 in Australia, no-one in the Australian camp is taking them lightly.

Coach John Connolly said: "England have got a good scrum, a good lineout, they've got pace out wide, all the ingredients to be a very good side.

"They're dangerous. I said before the tournament started that they're a side that will be in the mix come the quarterfinals, semifinals."

And he refused to read too much into England's dismal defeat to South Africa.

"They'll keep improving. South Africa kicked virtually everything, chased, bashed and they were at the break down quickly to take advantage of it," he said before suggesting he may even have preferred to be playing the Africans in the last eight.

"We're more comfortable against South Africa than England because we know them better. You play who you've got, but someone asked us and that's the opinion we had."

Fullback Chris Latham, a try scorer against Canada, said he didn't mind who they faced in the quarters.

"A quarterfinal is a quarterfinal, regardless of who it is you've got to win it. It's going to be a great challenge for us, we've certainly got to go and do our homework on England and then make sure we get it right," he said.

"They've been under a fair bit of media scrutiny from the way they started but as the tournament's gone on they're starting to perform a bit better. We've got to make sure we're on our game.

"If we give them any momentum, they're going to start to grow in confidence. We've got to make sure we dont allow that."

Captain Stirling Mortlock recognised how important this match will be to the people back home in Australia, and not just because the fans are looking for revenge from 2003 when England defeated Australia in the final in Sydney.

Asked about the English rivalry, he said: "It's sort of ingrained in the Australian pysche, it's one of the rivalries Australia's always had.

"The Ashes cricket has certainly been a big catalyst for it and matches between Australia and England on rugby pitches over the last six years have been pretty tough as well.

"Growing up as a young Aussie the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand has always been there and there's a similar rivalry with England as well."

All of Australia knows exactly where England's biggest threat will come from, the boot of Johnny Wilkinson and opposite him Australia will be lining up 21-year-old Berrick Barnes, who was still at school during the last World Cup.

He said little should be read into England's pool phase struggles.

"It can be difficult to play against the Pacific nations," Barnes said of England's game against Tonga.

"They (England) stuck to their guns and played some good footy and Wilkinson's kicking game is second to none. He's had a massive influence on them."

- AFP

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