The All Blacks stared defeat in the face and refused to blink at a seething Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night as they unleashed a withering second-half burst to claim yet another Tri-Nations title with a pulsating win over the Wallabies.
Tri-umphant once more, the All Blacks were pushed to the limit by a willing Wallabies performance that saw them explode out to a 17-7 lead early in the second spell... At that stage it was looking highly like the Dingo (Kiwi coach Robbie Deans) was about to steal our trophy.
But these All Blacks of Graham Henry are made of stern stuff. That much is now abundantly obvious. With a sellout crowd of 52,328 creating a cauldron of an atmosphere at the fabulous rugby venue, the New Zealanders launched a comeback of the highest quality.
Prop Tony Woodcock, replacement halfback Piri Weepu and the exquisite Dan Carter all crossed for tries as the All Blacks uncorked a champagne 21-point scoring run that left the Wallabies stunned and the considerable Kiwi presence in the crowd ecstatic.
It was a brilliant second-half performance by the All Blacks. They dominated the breakdown – vital if they were to halt the Wallabies’ possession dominance – and with their big-game performers like Richie McCaw, Carter, Woodcock, Ali Williams, Rodney So’oialo and Mils Muliaina stepping up to the mark, they took command of a match that appeared to be slipping from their grasp.
The win continued New Zealand's dominance not only in the Tri-Nations but also in the Bledisloe Cup, which has remained locked away in the New Zealand Rugby Union trophy cabinet since it was last prised loose of Australia’s grip in 2003.
The All Blacks have now won four straight Tri-Nations titles, and six of the last seven. The Springboks may be World Cup champions, but Graham Henry’s New Zealanders are the undisputed kings of southern hemisphere rugby.
After the All Blacks delivered a rousing rendition of their Kapa O Pango haka, it was the Wallabies who carried the better intensity on to the field for the opening 40, producing a timely late try to take a 10-7 lead into the sheds at halftime. It was a margin they deserved on the weight of possession and number of openings they carved.
It took a little over a dozen minutes for the All Blacks to open the scoring when fullback Mils Muliaina went over for a 7-0 lead after some sharp work from his men at free-kick time. Halfback Jimmy Cowan was the instigator, his tap-and-go gaining a key 10m and from there quick ruck ball and excellent hands put the No. 15 into space against the short-handed defence.
But thereafter the New Zealanders struggled to win the possession to mount any sort of sustained pressure, and there were worrying signs that the home side were in the process of establishing the sort of ascendancy that normally translates into wins at this level of rugby.
The All Blacks spent much of the rest of the half in desperate defensive mode, a couple of magnificent rearguard efforts required just to keep the Wallabies to a lone Matt Giteau penalty from a sustained period of dominance.
With new centre Ryan Cross having a big game, and Giteau finally shaking off the kicking wobbles, it was impressive stuff from Deans’ men who did lose No. 8 Wycliff Palu to injury late in the spell.
And they gained the lead when fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper powered between two weak tackles to grab an unlikely try. From a Giteau crosskick Sitiveni Sivivatu made a pig’s ear of his defensive assignment, taking Peter Hynes in the air as he fielded the pinpoint probe and the winger was able to offload to Ashley-Cooper for a score that was all too easy.
The match then exploded to life in an exhilarating second 40 that had Suncorp positively pulsating.
Big lock James Horwill scored early to take the Wallabies out to a dangerous 17-7 lead before the All Blacks finally lit the fuse.
Prop Tony Woodcock continued his remarkable try-scoring feats against the Australians, dashing over out wide for his third touchdown in two Bledisloe tests after Conrad Smith had done brilliantly to set him up. It was his fifth try all told against the Wallabies.
Just past the third quarter mark Weepu was over from a Sivivatu popped pass (a big So’oialo run a crucial ingredient) and Carter capped a fabulous scoring burst with a strong run through a weak Cross tackle to take his side out to 28-17 with a dozen minutes remaining.
There was time still for a Cross seven-pointer and one last Wallaby attempt to steal this match. But the All Blacks’ defence held, heroically you had to say, with Suncorp in danger of lifting off with the excitement.
At the end the jubilant All Blacks leapt into each other’s arms, while other collapsed to the deck in exhaustion.
They were heroes all. McCaw and Carter served up their class once again, but others played lead roles too. Both halfbacks had big games, Smith was a colossus in midfield, Richard Kahui rock solid on his wing, while up front So’oialo and Kaino had strong matches. Woodcock shook off a head knock to produce another memorable test and Williams and Brad Thorn gave it everything.
It was a great farewell, too, for veteran prop Greg Smomerville in his 65th, and final, test match.
This was a fabulous, famous victory. One, too, that should ease the pressure on coach Graham Henry who has well and truly masterminded a return to form of the highest quality.
And for all those critics of the ELVs in the north it should also be compulsory viewing. Test rugby simply doesn’t get any better than this. It’s only to be hoped the acerbic pundits of Fleet Street were watching.
New Zealand 28: Mils Muliaina, Tony Woodcock, Piri Weepu, Dan Carter tries; Dan Carter 3 cons.
Australia 24: Adam Ashley-Cooper, James Horwill, Ryan Cross tries; Matt Giteau pen, 3 cons.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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