The All Blacks had to come from behind and withstand a ferocious physical battering to subdue the fast-improving Australians and retain the Tri-Nations title in a vibrant Test in Auckland yesterday.
New Zealand's right to be called the No 1 team in world rugby looked on the line when they trailed at half-time. Worse still, they lost their tighthead prop, Carl Hayman, with concussion and then saw their captain, Richie McCaw, dazed after being smashed headfirst into the ground by Lote Tuqiri four minutes into the second half. After the match, the Wallaby wing was cited for the tackle.
The All Blacks, with 13 consecutive wins behind them, are not used to such indignities, especially in their own backyard. But their unrelenting response after half-time showed conclusively why they are favourites for next year's World Cup. They swept from a 20-11 deficit to a 31-20 lead before the Australians could score another point. Then, when the Wallabies got back to 31-27, the New Zealanders repelled a frantic late assault and eased home on the back of Daniel Carter's fifth penalty goal.
It was a compelling contest, made real by the clear improve-ment in the Australians under their new coaching team. The Wallabies show every sign of developing into a serious force.
McCaw admitted: "We knew the Australians would be desperate, and our guys showed a lot of ticker."
The All Blacks, clearly surprised at the intensity of the Australians' start, were full of mistakes throughout the first half. Tuqiri intercepted a Jerry Collins pass to streak away for the first try after 24 minutes and Rocky Elsom added a second just before the break. Stirling Mortlock converted both and added two penalties, while New Zealand could only manage a try from Jason Eaton and two Carter penalties.
But the tide turned decisively in the second half. Carter closed the gap with two penalties before tries by Chris Jack and the inside-centre Luke McAllister, who ran 40 metres, both within a five-minute spell, gave New Zealand control. Tuqiri grabbed his second try from a Matt Giteau grubber but New Zealand held on.
New Zealand: Tries: J Eaton, C Jack, L McAllister. Conversions: D Carter 2. Penalties: Carter 5.
Australia: Tries: L Tuqiri 2, R Elsom. Conversions: S Mortlock 3. Penalties: Mortlock 2.Reuse content