Australia banking on Eales' quick return

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New Zealand 36 Australia 24

John Eales, the Australian captain, could return from injury against South Africa on Saturday in the final match of the Tri-Nations tournament.

Eales injured his left knee in training last week and missed Saturday's match in Dunedin, in which New Zealand won the Tri-Nations series and swept the Bledisloe Cup 3-0.

Eales had been expected to be out of action for at least three weeks with medial ligament damage, but the team doctor, John Best, said yesterday that it was likely Eales would travel to South Africa with the team for the match in Pretoria.

"John is progressing well," Best said. "But in terms of him playing we'd have to wait until Thursday before making a decision." Best said two other absentees from the match on Saturday - the No 8 Daniel Manu (collarbone) and the full-back Matthew Burke (groin) - would also be considered, with decisions on their fitness being made today.

John Langford (concussion) and Joe Roff (knee) would also be examined after suffering problems on Saturday, but both were expected to be able to travel with the team.

Australia had no answers to a scintillating first-half display by the All Blacks and they trailed 36-0 at the interval. But they scored four unanswered tries in the second half to make the final scoreline more respectable.

John Hart, the New Zealand coach, said Australia's chances in South Africa depended on whether the Springboks made wholesale changes in the wake of their loss to New Zealand and previous defeat in Brisbane.

"It's a lot to ask of the Australians, having played here and then going to South Africa," Hart said. "But South Africa are not in great shape either and if they try to make too many changes that will play into the Australians' hands."

New Zealand: C Cullen; J Wilson, F Bunce, A Ieremia, G Osborne; C Spencer, J Marshall (O Tonu'u, 65); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke, I Jones (M Allan, 20), T Randell, Z Brooke, J Kronfeld.

Australia: S Larkham; B Tune, J Little, J Holbeck, J Roff (M Hardy, 70); D Knox, G Gregan; R Harry, M Foley, A Blades, O Finegan, J Langford (B Robinson, 65), F Finau, T Coker, D Wilson (capt).