Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith has revealed the embarrassment of Australia’s opening World Cup performance inspired his side to a defensive feat last achieved more than 30 years ago.
Australia’s 64-0 semi-final thrashing of Fiji on Saturday continued a remarkable try-scoring shut-out that traces back to Australia’s tournament-opening 28-20 win over England.
Josh Charnley’s late four-pointer in that win in Cardiff is the last they let in, with a sole penalty goal the only two points conceded in two wins over Fiji and big victories over Ireland and the United States.
In not conceding a try in more than five hours of football, Smith’s side becomes the first Australian team to keep a clean sheet of tries for four consecutive Tests since a Max Krilich-captained outfit managed six straight from 1981 to 1982.
Smith said conceding four tries against England in the tournament had prompted a shift in focus to defence.
“We were a little bit embarrassed really by our first defensive performance,” Smith said after Australia set up a clash with New Zealand in next Saturday’s final at Old Trafford.
“To have 20 points scored against us, that wasn’t our standard and we wanted to be a lot better than that.
“I remember the meeting after the game, we sat down and said `the only way we’re going to have a chance of winning this tournament is on our defence’.
“We worked really hard in training at that and the boys really bought into what we wanted to do.
“It’s something we’re very proud of and it’s nice that we’ve done that up to now, but it’s going to need an even bigger effort defensively next week.”
Australia’s attack has not exactly suffered since they put an emphasis on defence.
Tim Sheens’ side has piled on 210 unanswered points in the past four games against inferior opposition but the coach said there was still plenty of room for improvement against the Kiwis.
“We’ve put more time into our defence than our offence,” Sheens said.
“Although we’ve scored quite a few points over the last few weeks, I still think our offence was off the pace a little.
“We were better today again but we’re going to need to be better again next week.”