Kiwi coach Steve Kearney witnessed New Zealand's latest Anzac Test defeat by Australia, but then insisted: "It seems a bit same old, same old - but I know we're taking steps in the right direction. The effort of the guys to keep hanging in there was a real positive.''
The Kiwis haven't won a mid year test since 1998 and never on Australian soil and once again came close, but not close enough, with their brave defensive effort undone by a string of unforced errors. The toll of extra work finally told when a 10-6 Australian lead was finally augmented by late tries from Billy Slater and Jamal Idris.
"I'm not sure exactly of the completion rate in the second half, but it wasn't pretty,'' said Kearney bluntly. "It was 50% at one stage, and against any team, it's going to be hard work.
"In the second half, we couldn't build any pressure - it wasn't like they were forced errors, we just coughed the ball up.''
But while Kearney was critical of his side's handling, he had no questions about their heart after the first-minute loss of prop Sam Rapira with a dislocated thumb left them undermanned in the forwards.
"I couldn't fault the lads for the way they hung in tonight... they kept turning up for each other,'' he said.
Kearney also criticised an illegal in-the-air tackle by Idris on Jason Nightingale which left the Kiwi wing concussed as "very dangerous''.
Kiwi skipper Benji Marshall said he "really felt we were starting to get on top of them'' when they finally won some repeat possession at the right end of the field when they trailed by four. But he too pointed at poor ball control: "We shouldn't be coughing the ball up that many times, especially when you are representing your country,'' he said. "I made a couple of errors myself so I am putting my hand up for part of the blame.
"I am proud of the boys' effort. They played with great courage, great spirit, no one wanted to let anyone down: the effort was there, but the execution probably wasn't.''
In a game with just two penalties awarded, Marshall said it was "pretty fast'', adding: "We were tired, but let me tell you, they were tired.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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