New Zealand 24 Australia 0: Kiwis need Jones for future as old era ends

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The Independent Online

Stacey Jones had a phrase for how he felt after crowning his fifth international comeback of the autumn with the greatest result in New Zealand's history. "I'm totally buggered," he said.

Jones had flown in the previous day, after seeing the birth of his son in Auckland, and playing him in those circumstances amounted to a desperate gamble. It succeeded triumphantly, as he orchestrated the end of Australia's long era as the code's dominant force in the final of the Tri-Nations at Elland Road.

Not since they went on the red wine in France in 1978 had the Kangaroos lost a series or a tournament. The Kiwis had not taken one from them since 1953 and no one had "nilled" them since they did so in 1985.

"Australia have bullied us for a lot of years. It's about time we took one off them," Jones said. "It's great for the game back home and great for international rugby league."

The Kiwis should be working on Jones now to come out of retirement yet again to help them defend their title next year. Apart from his emergence as the key player in this match, with his typically precise passing and kicking, this was a triumph for innovation. Their coach, Brian McClennan, had played down their chances all week, but all the time he had a plan up his sleeve that would win it.

He played Shontayne Hape at the back of a mobile pack, left the exuberant ball-handling of David Solomona and Ali Lauitiiti on the bench for most of the game and attacked Australia relentlessly around the play-the-ball.

The ease with which they gained metres in that area shattered all Australian composure, producing a string of errors and penalties. It is a long time - probably since that French jaunt all those years ago - since they have played as badly in a Test, but that should not deflect any credit from the Kiwis.

The potent team spirit they have shown throughout the Tri-Nations was to the fore from the start. Twice in the early minutes, Australia moved the ball swiftly to the flanks; both times, Kiwi tacklers were there in numbers to drive the wingers into touch. It was a defensive effort that never slackened for a moment, even after the game was won. Ruben Wiki, the captain becoming the first man ever to win 50 caps, was at the heart of all that. He is another they will want back on deck in the southern hemisphere next year.

Most of the 26,000 in the crowd were honorary Kiwis for the night and hailed the eclipse of the Aussies almost as enthusiastically as if it had been Great Britain doing the job. Typically, Wayne Bennett had no cheap alibis to offer. His side had simply not played.

Afterwards, one of his players, Craig Fitzgibbon, gave his medal to a young boy in the crowd. That confirms the second-rower as one of the game's good guys, but it also shows the value which, after almost 30 years of beating everyone, you put on losers' medals.

New Zealand: Webb; Webster, Whatuira, Toopi, Vatuvei; Vagana, Jones; Rauhihi, Tony, Wiki, Kidwell, Anderson, Hape. Substitutes used: Faiumu, Asotasi, Solomona, Lauitiiti.

Australia: Minichiello; King, Gasnier, Cooper, Tate; Barrett, Gower; Civoniceva, Buderus, Ryles, O'Donnell, Fitzgibbon, Kennedy. Substitutes used: Wing, Mason, O'Meley, Price.

Referee: S Ganson (Great Britain).