New Zealand battled back to draw 16-all with Australia in Auckland yesterday and get the Tri-Nations tournament away to a compelling start.
New Zealand battled back to draw 16-all with Australia in Auckland yesterday and get the Tri-Nations tournament away to a compelling start. The Kiwis trailed 16-6 shortly before half-time, but close-range tries from Louis Anderson and Francis Meli brought them level before both sides had unsuccessful attempts to break the deadlock with drop goals.
It was only the second draw in Tests between the two countries and seemed an unlikely prospect when Australia scored three tries in eight minutes midway through the first half.
Two scores from winger Luke Rooney, split by a try from Anthony Minichiello, put them in command after the other Anderson brother, Vinnie, had put the Kiwis ahead after four minutes.
But after that New Zealand kept the world champions scoreless for almost an hour, finding the defensive organisation in their backline to go with their ferocious tackling down the middle.
The scene now switches to England for the rest of the tournament, starting with Australia and New Zealand's second meeting at Loftus Road next Saturday, where the balance of power could be affected by the absence of three of the Kiwis' team this weekend - Matt Utai, Tony Puletua and Joe Galuvao - who all need operations.
By way of compensation, British-based players like Robbie Paul and Lesley Vainikolo will be available to try to build on yesterday's good work. It is a match that will show Great Britain exactly what they have to do, starting with their opening match against Australia at the City of Manchester Stadium on 30 October. The squad from which that night's team will be selected is to be named tomorrow and will then fly to Spain for training.
Brian Noble, with his Grand Final commitments with Bradford to think of, has played his cards close to his chest and has had some difficult selection decisions to make. Few would envy him the task of coming up with options on the wings. One of the few things he has given away is that Brian Carney and Leon Pryce would have been his first-choice wingers, but with neither of them certain to be fit he might be forced to look beyond them - maybe to Hull's Gareth Raynor and Bradford's Stuart Reardon, neither of whom has been tested at this level.
Noble has also said that he wants Sean Long and Martin Gleeson in his party, even though Long has played only two matches since his betting ban and has spent part of the last week on crutches after a foot operation; his partner in crime has not played at all, as his four-month ban only ran out this weekend.
It is a leap of faith to include the two, but they are such important players to Great Britain that it will be seen as a risk worth taking. Rumour suggests that there could be another intriguing gamble, with Paul Sculthorpe possibly being asked to take over the captaincy from Andy Farrell.
Farrell has captained his country for so long and has shown such powers of leadership at Wigan this season that it seems slightly perverse to mess with the formula, but there could be a theory that he will be even more effective if left to concentrate on his own game.Reuse content