All Blacks bounce back

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The Independent Online
Australia 25 New Zealand 32

The New Zealand coach, John Hart, is, almost understandably, no great lover of northern hemisphere referees. Only a week ago, Hart was upset with the eccentric handling of New Zealand's Tri-Nations match with South Africa by Scotland's Ray Megson.

Hart was not a great deal happier with Jim Fleming, another Scottish official, who inexplicably allowed the Australian No 8 Michael Brial to stay on the field after an extraordinary attack on the All Black centre, Frank Bunce. In the sixth minute of the game Brial unleashed a volley of punches aimed at Bunce's face and head. The referee and the rest of the 40,000 crowd could not have failed to misinterpret the intent of that unprovoked assault. Fleming, however, sadly gave Brial the benefit of whatever doubt there may have been and Hart, quite rightly, was flabbergasted by the decision.

"The referee saw what happened," Hart said. "Brial was punching Bunce uncontrollably. There was no possible excuse for what the player did, but the referee did nothing. That's unacceptable."

Hart and his remarkable New Zealand team did, at least, deliver a suitable pay-off as Bunce crashed over for an injury-time try and the All Blacks completed an inspired victory.

Australia must have thought they had done everything within their power to win. Only a month ago, New Zealand had humiliated them 43-6 in Wellington, but the Aussies were in a different mood this time. In just the 12th minute, Joe Roff and Ben Tune combined sweetly to give scrum-half George Gregan the opportunity to beat Christian Cullen to the line. When, five minutes from half-time, the impeccable Matt Burke scooped up a loose ball on his own 22 to race the length of the field and score in the corner, Australia were looking every inch the winners.

Two early second-half penalties from Burke gave them a 22-9 cushion. Incredibly, that still was not enough. Andrew Mehrtens closed the gap with two superbly struck penalties and when a Jonah Lomu charge took out four Australian defenders, Justin Marshall nipped in under the posts and Australia looked vulnerable. Mehrtens duly squared the match with another penalty, this time from inside his own half, to set up a remarkable finish.

Inevitably, it was Mehrtens who set up the decisive score, bursting down the right to free Cullen. The shaven-headed full-back was stopped just short, but Bunce, his head now clear after Brial's early blows, dived in to score and give New Zealand the Tri-Nations crown.

"The manner of that comeback says something special about this All Black team," Hart said. "They always kept their discipline and never allowed all the cheap shots to bother them. That's why they won."

Australia: Tries Gregan, Burke; Penalties Burke 5. New Zealand: Tries Mehrtens, Bunce. Conversions Mehrtens 2; Penalties Mehrtens 6.

AUSTRALIA: M Burke (NSW); B Tune (Queensland), J Roff (ACT), R Tombs, D Campese (both NSW); P Howard, G Gregan (both ACT); A Heath (NSW), M Foley (Queensland), R Harry (NSW), J Eales (capt), G Morgan, D Wilson (all Queensland), D Manu, M Brial (both NSW). Replacement: T Gavin (ACT) for Morgan, 23.

NEW ZEALAND: C Cullen (Manawatu); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce, W Little (both North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens, J Marshall (both Canterbury); O Brown, S Fitzpatrick (capt), C Dowd, R Brooke (all Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), J Kronfeld (Otago), M Jones, Z Brooke (both Auckland).

Referee: J Fleming (Scotland).