RUGBY UNION: All Blacks looking ominous

New Zealand 34 Australia 15
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The Independent Online
JOHN HART has warned New Zealand's World Cup rivals that his All Blacks are still capable of improvement despite their brilliant form so far this season.

The All Blacks have trounced World Cup hopefuls France, South Africa and Australia in their past three Tests. They were superb in all facets of Saturday's win over the Wallabies in the final Test of the century on home soil, and are overwhelming favourites to lift the cup in Cardiff's new Millennium Stadium in November.

"We're a long way ahead of where I thought we might have been," the New Zealand coach said. "It's a lot about confidence and we've worked really hard this year and we're just building.

"To beat South Africa by 28 points and Australia by 19 is a pretty good step. In terms of the way we're developing and in terms of the depth of the squad, I'm pleased with where we are and I think we've got a lot of improving to do."

After losing five Tests in a row last year including a 3-0 Bledisloe Cup humiliation to Australia, the All Blacks have restored order. They started their campaign with a win over Samoa and then a 54-7 defeat of France. They continued in similar form in the Tri-Nations with a record 28-0 defeat of the world champions, South Africa, a fortnight ago and then demolished Australia's fragile pack on Saturday. The win took New Zealand three points clear of Australia on top of the Tri-Nations table at the tournament's half-way point.

The All Black pack laid the platform for success with the front-row of Kees Meeuws, Anton Oliver and Carl Hoeft bullying the Australians while the back row of Taine Randell, Dylan Mika and Josh Kronfeld, as well as second rower Norm Maxwell, were menacing and relentless throughout.

Hoeft is likely to be out for up to six weeks after tearing a calf muscle, but with Craig Dowd on the way back from injury, New Zealand will lose nothing in the front row in its away matches against South Africa in Pretoria on 7 August and in Sydney three weeks later.

The backs used the momentum established by the forwards from the first minute and completed an ominous-looking outfit which is gaining confidence and form three months away from the World Cup.

"It was a big step for us against a very good side," Hart said. "I was just delighted with the way we started and built on the start which was what we set out to do. We knew we had to start very well to stop the momentum of the Australians. A really satisfying night at the office."

The New Zealand outside-half Andrew Mehrtens scored nine penalties - matching the world record - on his way to 29 points in the first Test under lights at the rebuilt Eden Park in front of a crowd of 47,000.

Randell and his side, clearly fired up, charged into Australia's half from the first whistle and hardly left it for the first 40 minutes, grabbing their only try in the ninth minute through scrum-half Justin Marshall.

In the second half the Wallabies came back with tries from George Gregan and Daniel Herbert, but it was all too late for them to make any real inroads into the large first-half deficit.

New Zealand: Try Marshall; Conversion Mehrtens; Penalties Mehrtens 9. Australia: Tries Gregan, Herbert; Conversion Burke; Penalty Burke.

NEW ZEALAND: Wilson; Cullen, Ieremia, Gibson, Umaga (Lomu, 65); Mehrtens (Brown, 71), Marshall; Hoeft (Feek, 58), Oliver, Meeuws, Maxwell, Brooke (Willis, 69), Mika (Blowers, 75), Kronfeld, Randell (capt).

AUSTRALIA: Burke; Tune, Herbert, Grey, Roff; Horan, Gregan; Panoho (Crowley, 59), Paul, Noriega, Giffin, Welborn (Connors, 59),Cockbain, Wilson (capt), Strauss (Kefu, 46).

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).