New Zealand 18 Australia 30: Hunt a symbol of Australian intent

Teenager's double strike in brutal encounter shows these Kangaroos are strictly business
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The Independent Online

Australia kickstarted their Tri-Nations campaign in emphatic style in a bruising battle at Mt Smart Stadium.

Lack of discipline at inopportune stages cost the Kiwis dear. Trailing 6-0 early in the hugely physical contest, the Kangaroos replied with a three-try burst to take a 20-6 lead into half-time. The second term was a similarly brutal affair and again the Kiwis were first to score. The Kangaroos, however, capitalised on their opportunities throughout the dying stages.

"It was a tough match. We always expected that," said the Australian captain, Darren Lockyer. "The boys hung in well in the first half and at 20-6 at halftime we were pretty confident. We ground it out well after that. All the new guys went well, which was very pleasing."

A high tackle from the Kangaroos workhorse Nathan Hindmarsh on Kiwi debutant Simon Mannering paved the way for the home team to exact an early breakthrough. The penalty put the Kiwis deep into attack, and after spreading the ball from side to side, the five-eighth Nigel Vagana burrowed his way through a multitude of defenders to put the ball on the try-line in the fifth minute. Stacey Jones's subsequent conversion gave the Kiwis a 6-0 lead.

But 13 minutes into the hostile contest, the Kangaroos made their reply after a scintillating 50-metre break from their half-back Thurston. The Kiwis' defence was clearly rattled and, following some hot-footed play by the centre Justin Hodges, 19-year-old Karmichael Hunt found his way over out wide on the back of a Lockyer pass.

Less than five minutes later, Hunt silenced the crowd with his second try after Thurston popped up a simple ball.

Tensions boiled over after the visiting winger Matt King was pushed into touch by an over-zealous Tame Tupou. King, getting to his feet after crashing into the advertising boards, proceeded to land a volley of punches on his opposing number. But despite halting the Australian momentum with the penalty against King, the Kiwis struggled to find the breakthrough in the following set of six, and a lack of discipline saw Thurston slot over two points to put the Australians further ahead. The lead became 20-6 at half-time when the speedy centre Mark Gasnier intercepted and ran 80 metres to score.

The second half started with the Kangaroos staying on the front foot, but unable to add to their lead. Instead it was the Kiwis who broke through in the 59th minute after Jerome Ropati slipped through some shoddy defence to get the hosts back within eight points. This sparked an instant Australian response, Mark O'Meley barrelling over the line to restore the half-time margin. With the full-time siren beckoning, Greg Inglis scored out wide to put the result beyond doubt. The Kiwi wing Manu Vatuvei gave the crowd something to smile about with a last-minute consolation try.

New Zealand: Webb; Tupou, Soliola, Matai, Vatuvei; Vagana, Jones; Wiki, Halatau, Asotasi, Kidwell, Puletua, Mannering. Substitutes: Ropati, N Cayless, Blair, Pritchard.

Australia: Hunt; King, Gasnier, Hodges, Inglis; Lockyer, Thurston; Mason, Smith, Civoniceva, O'Donnell, Hindmarsh, Maitua. Substitutes: O'Meley, Berrigan, Ryan, Kite.

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