Australia 16 New Zealand 12: Lockyer tips balance in final cliffhanger

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The Independent Online

A long, drawn-out drama with several false endings showed Great Britain just how far they must travel to match the best in the international game. The Tri-Nations final was a cliff-hanger decided by Darren Lockyer's sudden-death try in added time. It was not so much a golden point as four green and gold ones.

"You couldn't have scripted the drama, so it was a classic in that sense," said Adrian Morley, one of the British players who stayed on in Sydney for the final.

This was not one of those games, like New Zealand's 24-0 win over Australia in last year's final, where you wished the Lions had been out there to take advantage. The objective assessment is that Great Britain would not have lived with either side on this form. "I think the format of the tournament, where we have to play five Tests in five weeks, would make it very difficult for us to match that intensity," said Morley, who will head home to Britain soon to start a new phase in his career at Warrington.

The intensity of this game really was something special, most of all when the scores were tied at 12-12 going into the last 10 minutes. In the remains of normal time and in almost seven minutes of extra time New Zealand missed with four attempts at goal and Australia with two. The Kangaroos also had a try disallowed after Willie Mason, of all people, kicked ahead in the very last seconds of the 80 minutes.

The tension was mounting, and it was finally released by a great try to decide an epic match. Johnathan Thurston had been a live wire all evening and he sold a dummy to race through a tiring defence and set up Lockyer's clincher.

The Kiwis had more than enough excuses for missing a tackle. They had only one available substitute after losing three players - Steve Matai, Manu Vatuvei and Motu Tony - with nasty injuries. Such was their courage as they tried to overcome that handicap that any Poms in the 27,000 crowd who were not already honorary Kiwis for the evening were supporting them by the end.

"I thought the boys deserved more for their efforts," said their proud coach, Brian McClennan. "But you have to acknowledge Australia and Darren Lockyer getting the winning try was fitting."

Lockyer was completing the kind of season you dream about, having already captained Brisbane and Queensland to victories in the NRL Grand Final and the State of Origin series respectively.

He can go on to make himself one of Australia's all-time greats, but three of the Kiwis' best have now called it a day at international level. Ruben Wiki, Stacey Jones and Nigel Vagana all announced that they had played their last Test. They leave a huge gap, but somehow you have more faith in the Kiwis' ability to do that than in the British game's ability to produce Test players of similar stature.

Australia: Hunt (Brisbane); Tate (Brisbane), Gasnier (St George Illawarra), Hodges (Brisbane), Inglis (Melbourne); Lockyer (Brisbane), Thurston (North Queensland); Kite (Manly), Smith (Melbourne), Civoniceva (Brisbane), Hindmarsh (Parramatta), Ryan (Canterbury), O'Donnell (North Queensland). Substitutes used: O'Meley (Canterbury), Berrigan (Brisbane), Tupou (Sydney), Mason (Canterbury).

New Zealand: Webb (NZ Warriors); Hape (Bradford), Soliola (Sydney), Matai (Manly), Vatuvei (NZ Warriors); Vagana (Cronulla), Jones (Catalans); Wiki (NZ Warriors), Halatau (Wests Tigers), Asotasi (Canterbury), Kidwell (Melbourne), Mannering (NZ Warriors), Fa'alogo (South Sydney). Substitutes used: Tony (Hull), Cayless (Parramatta), Blair (Melbourne), Pritchard (Penrith).

Referee: A Klein (Great Britain).