Rugby Union: All Blacks' worst is enough

New Zealand 36 Australia 24
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The Independent Online
On the face of it, a rather successful day for the All Blacks. They wrapped up the Tri-Nations series, swept the Bledisloe Cup series against Australia 3-0 and completed eight Tests without defeat this season with this win.

But the All Blacks' celebrations at the end of another truly outstanding season were slightly muted by Australia's thrilling fightback in the second half, in which the All Blacks managed to score not one point.

They held a 36-0 lead at half-time with three tries, but Australia scored four after the break to win the second half 24-0. Carlos Spencer proved to be the difference. He landed five penalties and three conversions against David Knox's two conversions. Knox missed a first-half penalty and two conversions while Spencer, in doubt before the game with a hamstring injury, missed nothing.

It was not a performance which delighted the All Blacks' coach, John Hart. "Maybe we really took our foot off the throttle, but being 36 points up, it's hard to keep going," he said. "And, really, there were far too many penalties for a game of rugby and the game lost its shape in the second half.

"We're disappointed because we didn't want to finish the season like this but at the same time we've won eight out of eight so we have to be realistic and not be too demanding on ourselves."

The flanker Josh Kronfeld said: "Most of the boys will be disappointed with this. I suppose we let ourselves down."

The result means that the Australian coach Greg Smith has now faced New Zealand five times and has yet to win. But he appeared unconcerned that his job - to be reviewed at the end of the month - might be in jeopardy. "If people want to give you the chop they give you the chop. Whether you're any good or not it doesn't seem to really matter," Smith said. "But I believe that the Board of the Australian Rugby Union is pretty sensible and I really don't believe that they'll do anything impetuously."

The points went with the moderate wind blowing straight down the ground and the All Blacks did enough with the first-half advantage to put the game out of Australia's reach. It was the most points conceded by Australia in a half in Tests.

The Wallabies, badly missing their captain and line-out star John Eales, did well to battle back in the second half and, without the game being strangled by a 23-18 penalty count to New Zealand, might have managed an upset. Three Spencer penalties inside 19 minutes gave the All Blacks a 9-0 lead before the local hero Taine Randell scored the first try on 20 minutes.

Christian Cullen kept up his run of a try a Test from 18 games with a stunning individual effort on 25 minutes. Justin Marshall added a third try and Spencer kicked a penalty in the final minute of the half.

Joe Roff started Australia's fightback in the second minute of the second half, and Stephen Larkham added a second four minutes later to give Australia real hope. But they had to wait until 10 minutes from time for another try, again from Larkham.

New Zealand: C Cullen; J Wilson, F Bunce, A Ieremia, G Osborne; C Spencer,J Marshall; C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke, I Jones, T Randell, Z Brooke, J Kronfeld. Replacements: O Tonu'u for Marshall 65; M Allan for Jones 20.

Australia: S Larkham; B Tune, J Little, J Holbeck, J Roff; D Knox, G Gregan; R Harry, M Foley, A Blades, O Finegan, J Langford, F Finau, T Coker, D Wilson (capt). Replacements: B Robinson for Langford 65; M Hardy for Roff 70.