Planet Rugby

New Zealand eke out Tri-Nations crown

21st July 2007 10:17

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Chris Jack

Here they come! Chris Jack leads the All Blacks' charge

New Zealand have won the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup in one go, with a compelling 26-12 win over Australia in Auckland on Saturday.

The Wallabies kept well in touch with their hosts, and it was only the fine details which let them down; first a silly penalty which gifted the All Blacks a half-time lead, and then one costly error off the back of a scrum on the hour mark which led to the only try of the match by Tony Woodcock.

In the face of a valiant Australian effort, New Zealand stuck manfully to their task, with Dan Carter exceptional from the tee and a significant reduction in the number of handling lapses that spoiled their efforts against South Africa last week.

It was an emotional match for emotional Byron Kelleher and unemotional Anton Oliver as they played their last Tests on home soil. It was also an opportunity for the Southern Hemisphere to say farewell to two of rugby's greatest sons - George Gregan and Stephen Larkham. Kellheer and Oliver were substituted early in the second half, leaving them to trudge to the touchline. Larkham and Gregan played out the whole of the 80 minutes and looked as enthusiastic and determined as ever they have looked.

The weather forecast had said "light rain", which must be a New Zealand euphemism for downpour. The rain burst down onto an already wet Auckland, mercifully relenting as the match went on but still water splashed from running feet, there was steam on the breath, and the conditions were not easy.

That said, both sides handled admirably. in a match in which there were only eleven scrums. The All Blacks did not put the ball into a single scrum in the first half. That was a half when the Wallabies were with the weather and dominated possession and territory but ended 12-9 in arrears. The second half was a different matter as the Wallabies had only rare forays into New Zealand territory.

The Wallabies were better at the line-outs, winning the ball four times on New Zealand throws in the first half. That improved for the All Blacks in the second half. The much-discussed scrums were a different matter. The Australians had a great first scrum but then rather fell apart. In the second half Matt Dunning was penalised twice at the scrums, which may have been better than he deserved. One scrum, five metres from the Wallaby line, went down four times, three times clearly with Dunning taking the lead - what John Drake calls a swan dive.

Both sides contested fiercely at the tackle/ruck and turnovers there were rare. But there were also trickles of blood from the contests.

The penalty count punished the Wallabies - 13-5 against them, and there was Dan Carter's boot to turn seven of those thirteen into 21 points; enough to make the margin of victory look comfortable. It was not comfortable as it sounds, but richly deserved nonetheless.

There were different tactics. The Wallabies retained possession in the first half as they went through many phases with the confidence one would associate with a dry day. The All Blacks on the other hand did a profitable pick-'n-drive routine. In the second half the Wallabies had fewer chances to go through phases and then when the lead stretched away from them their nerve seemed to crick while the All Blacks became more expansive as they did, in Richie McCaw's words, "the business". "We did it right." The result of doing it right was "a couple of cups in the cupboard", an alliterative understatement.

The umbrellas were up when the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band led the anthems and Carl Hayman led the new haka, watched by distant Wallabies. Carter kicked off and an enthralling 80 minutes ensued.

There was early emotion when Rocky Elsom killed the ball at a tackle and players became upset. There was also an interesting moment. Canterbury claim that the last time one of their jerseys tore was in 1976. They have a new collar which makes it harder to grasp, but big Keith Robinson grabbed Daniel Vickerman by the neck of his jersey and it came apart. 31 years later!

The emotions subsided and Carter kicked the penalty for Elsom's infringement.

The second score was a long time coming, also a penalty, this time against McCaw for unbinding early at a tumbling scrum. Stirling Mortlock kicked that one on a night when both kickers were on target.

Two minutes later Matt Giteau kicked a sneaky drop, and the referee called in the help of the TMO to determine that it was over, which it was. 6-3 to Australia after 25 minutes. When Larkham was penalised for not clearing away after tackling Carter made the score 6-all but when McCaw did in like manner Mortlock restored the Wallaby lead after 32 minutes.

Giteau went off-side and Carter banged a long one over from the half-way line and then there was a silly moment. The ball bounced up towards Adam Ashley-Cooper who was not under pressure. The full-back tried to trap the ball with his foot but the bounce caught him unawares and he footed the ball into touch where he threw the ball away as Doug Howlett came to claim it. The referee penalised Ashley-Cooper for his petulance and Carter gave the All Blacks their half-time lead.

Early in the second half the Wallabies conceded a succession of penalties. The second was when George Smith was at the side of a tackle-ruck and interfering. From a sharp angle Carter put the All Blacks 15-9 ahead.

McAlister was penalised for being on the wrong side of a tackle and in the way and Mortlock made the score 15-12 after 46 minutes, the last time the Wallabies looked like scoring.

On their left the All Blacks tapped a penalty and kicked the ball over to the right where lurking Howlett came forward to collect it. Mortlock was judged to have tackled Howlett high and, difficult though the kick was, Carter banged it over.

The All Blacks were not the only ones getting the rub of the green for McCaw was adjudged to have knocked on in a move which seemed to set up a certain All Black try. But from the ensuring scrum Brendon Leonard intercepted a pass between Stephen Hoiles and Gregan and the next thing the All Blacks were battering at the Wallaby line. Keven Mealamu went for the post's padding but the TMO decided that it was inconclusive whether he scored a try. This led to a five-metre scrum which collapsed four times. The third was allowed to play out and Leonard darted for the line before Tony Woodcock picked up and plunged. This time - another difficult decision - the TMO advised that a try had been scored. 23-12 with 22 minutes to play.

Most of that belonged to the All Blacks who even had the confidence to run from their own 22.

With eight minutes left Giteau was again penalised for being offside and Carter finished off the scoring.

Man of the Match: Daniel Vickerman had a lot to do with Australian ascendancy in the first half and Rodney So'oialo played with great energy and determination throughout, but our Man of the Match is Daniel Carter back in form with the boot, back in form with his tactical appreciation of the match and back in form with his running and passing.

Moment of the Match: There were not many great moments but there was that moment when Drew Mitchell received the ball and Doug Howlett charged into him and flattened him in what has become a trademark tackle for the wing.

Villain of the Match: Nobody really, though Matt Dunning may well have come close at scrum time.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:

Try: Woodcock

Pens: Carter 7

For Australia:

Pens: Mortlock 3

Drop goal: Giteau

New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Keith Robinson, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Anton Oliver, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Neemia Tialata, 18 Reuben Thorne, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Aaron Mauger, 22 Nick Evans.

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Stirling Mortlock (captain), 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Stephen Larkham, 9 George Gregan, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith (v/c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Nathan Sharpe, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Matt Dunning.

Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Al Baxter, 18 Hugh McMeniman, 19 Mark Chisholm, 20 Phil Waugh (v/c), 21 Scott Staniforth, 22 Chris Latham.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

Touch judges: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

Assessor: Brendan McCormick (Australia)

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