Australia beats France 52-6 at Rugby League World Cup

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Australian captain Cameron Smith, left, and England's Gareth Widdop compete for the ball during their Rugby League World Cup game in Melbourne.

Australian captain Cameron Smith, left, and England's Gareth Widdop compete for the ball during their Rugby League World Cup game in Melbourne. (Photo: AP)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Forward Wade Graham, playing in only his second test match, scored four tries Friday to lead the Kangaroos to a 52-6 win over France, the defending champion's second consecutive win at the Rugby League World Cup.

It was Australia's biggest win under coach Mal Meninga and guaranteed the Kangaroos a spot in the quarterfinals and a likely first-place finish in Group A.

Graham completed a first-half hat trick in 19 minutes before adding a fourth midway through the second. Cameron Munster also had two of Australia's 10 tries as the Kangaroos won their ninth consecutive test.

Australia captain Cameron Smith, who converted six of the Australian tries, played his 36th consecutive test, breaking Clive Churchill's record of 35 tests in a row for the Kangaroos.

"I'm very proud of it. To rack up 36 in a row is pretty special for me and my family," Smith said.

Smith's record for consecutive tests could reach 40 if Australia makes the final in Brisbane on Dec. 2.

The Kangaroos were leading by 14 points in the 43rd minute when Munster breezed past French center Olivier Arnaud, who was on the field despite injuring his elbow moments before the try.

The points flowed after that, with Tyson Frizell, Billy Slater, Graham and Valentine Holmes all chipping in to push Australia past the half-century mark.

Holmes was a last-minute call-up to the side after James Maloney withdrew from the team on game day to attend to a personal matter in Sydney.

"It's a private matter. He's working his way through it," Meninga said of Maloney's absence.

Meninga was pleased with his side's performance despite an expected easy win over France.

"That's what it's all about. It's about internal competition, everyone putting their hand up to play at the back end of the tournament if we get that far," he said. "I couldn't have asked for a better performance by everyone."

The match was the first of the second round of the competition. On Saturday, Group B leaders New Zealand host Scotland in Christchurch, Samoa plays Tonga in Hamilton, New Zealand, and England takes on Lebanon in Sydney.

The Samoa-Tonga match has inflamed rivalries between the two Pacific island countries with reports of arrests and violence in Auckland, 125 kilometers (75 miles) away. Extra police have been called in for the Hamilton match.

On Sunday, Papua New Guinea hosts Ireland in Port Moresby, and in a Townsville doubleheader in north Queensland state, Italy plays the United States and Fiji takes on Wales.

Three teams from each of Group A (Australia, England, France, Lebanon) and Group B (New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland and Tonga) advance to the quarterfinals along with the winning teams from Group C (Papua New Guinea, Ireland, Wales) and Group D (Fiji, United States, Italy).

Papua New Guinea and Ireland each won their opening games in Group C, while Fiji leads Group D after winning its first match.

The teams will play a third round of matches next weekend before the quarterfinals begin on Nov. 17.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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