'Brain explosions' cost Australia the game and a player

Rugby Union New Zealand 28 Australia 16
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The Independent Online
Front rowers have never been renowned for their verbal skills but the Australian captain, Phil Kearns, came up with a perfect expression to explain the Wallabies' defeat in the first Bledisloe Cup Test on Saturday.

"I had a brain explosion," he said, in his attempts to explain why, with New Zealand ahead 18-16 and five minutes left to play he opted to kick for touch rather than attempt a penalty goal from 35 metres out. The ploy failed to come off; New Zealand stemmed yet another virile Wallaby attack and the visitors lost their last chance of pulling off a surprise, but fully deserved victory.

Kearns's front-row partner, Dan Crowley, also presumably suffered a brain explosion earlier in the match when in full view of the TV cameras, not to mention the astonished spectators of Eden Park's No 1 stand he blatantly booted the New Zealand flanker Josh Kronfeld in the head. Kronfeld, who should now be able to make a fortune extolling the virtues of his black helmet emerged unscathed. The referee, Ray Megson, missed the incident and after the match the All Black camp refused to take the matter further.

The vigilant New Zealand video brigade, however, took no time in citing Crowley and yesterday's disciplinary hearing found him guilty of "dangerous and foul play" and he was suspended for three weeks.

His absence and that of the injured Matt Burke will be a major blow to the Wallabies for the return match on Saturday in Sydney. Their new-look team, with six changes from the team that lost to England in the World Cup, was unlucky not to win this tense 99th encounter between the two countries.

New Zealand started well, despite playing into a strong blustery wind in the first half. As torrential rain swept across the ground, the All Blacks persisted with the same high-speed, high-risk tactics which made them the sensation of the World Cup. No tries resulted for New Zealand but when at the end of the first half Australia were only 10-9 ahead, it seemed as if a high- scoring New Zealand victory was there for the taking.

The Wallabies, however, dominated much of the second half. Their new scrum-half Steve Merrick showed plenty of enterprise and a penchant for running from the base of the scrum. Supported by the powerful back row of Tim Gavin, Willie Ofahengaue and the Tongan-born, former junior All Black Daniel Manu, Merrick often had the All Blacks on the back foot.

Still trailing 16-15 with 10 minutes left, the New Zealanders retained sufficient composure to wait for the lucky break, it came when Michael Jones nabbed Pat Howard in front of the Australian posts, and Andrew Mehrtens kicked the ensuing penalty. Mehrtens, who finished with 23 points, slotted a further drop goal seven minutes later but it took a moment of brilliance from Frank Bunce to seal the game for New Zealand.

Twenty-five metres from his own line, Bunce broke the tackles, burst up the right hand touchline before unloading to Mike Brewer. Brewer fed Jeff Wilson, who accelerated away before sending Jonah Lomu over for his first try on Eden Park. With Mehrtens' conversion the score leapt to 28- 16, and seconds later Sean Fitzpatrick held the huge Bledisloe Cup aloft.

Scorers: Australia: Try Lomu; Conversion Mehrtens. Penalties: Mehrtens; Drop goals Mehrtens (2). New Zealand: Try Ofahengaue. Conversion Roff. Penalties: Burke, Roff (2).

NEW ZEALAND: G Osborne; J Wilson, F Bunce, W Little, J Lomu; A Mehrtens, G Bachop; C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, I Jones, R Brooke, M Brewer, J Kronfeld, Z Brooke (M Jones, 52).

AUSTRALIA: M Burke (P Howard, 30); D Smith, J Little, T Horan, J Roff; S Bowen, S Merrick; D Crowley, P Kearns (capt), M Hartill, W Waugh, J Eales, W Ofahengaue, D Manu, T Gavin (T Coker 73).

Referee: R Megson, Scotland.