Rugby Union: Blackest day for All Blacks

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The Independent Online
New Zealand 23

Australia 27

A HISTORIC match at Lancaster Park saw New Zealand sink to their third consecutive defeat as Australia continued their resurgence in spectacular style. Two late tries from the All Blacks were scant consolation, and will do nothing to lessen New Zealand's sense of depression.

Australia had not beaten New Zealand at the ground for 40 years. The win gave them the Bledisloe Cup and kept the Wallabies' Tri-Nations hopes firmly alive.

"We can't do anything about today," a devastated All Black captain Taine Randell said afterwards. "All we can do is to watch what happened, maybe work out how it happened, and realise that we've got to line up against South Africa in Durban in a couple of weeks.

"The most important game for the All Blacks is the next one," he added, looking forward to rebuilding the team's season. Australia's victorious coach, Rod Macqueen, said it had been a significant day. "There's no doubt the game's quite different now, with the defence the way it is," he said. "You've got a flat line defence with very good technique in the tackle now so we have to basically create gaps rather than run through them. You're having to think all the time. It's becoming a little bit like a game of chess," he said.

The final score flattered the All Blacks, who have been the game's dominant force for the past two seasons. Before the match, their coach, John Hart, had said: "We're not focusing on individuals as we go into this game, we're focusing on the Australian team." Perhaps he should have focused on his own team. The Wallabies surged into a 27-9 lead with touchdowns from Tom Bowman, Matt Burke, Jason Little and Stephen Larkham, and New Zealand's late comeback could not hide their shortcomings as they were overwhelmed by a near-flawless Australian performance.

The All Blacks' third consecutive defeat in the same season - the first time that has happened since 1949 - will be a huge national blow. The Wallabies beat them 24-16 three weeks ago and South Africa followed that up with a 13-3 win last week.

Australia's latest victory, their first in New Zealand in eight years, gave them an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the Bledisloe Cup series with one match to play in Sydney later this month.

But for New Zealand the Sydney match and their clash with South Africa in two weeks' time are now a mere formality with their chances of winning either series gone.

As in their previous three Tests this season, the All Blacks looked a team lacking on-field direction. Australia led 10-3 at half-time following unanswered tries by Bowman in the seventh minute and Burke just before the interval. Their two second-half tries came from Little (41) and Larkham (70) before New Zealand responded through Cullen (77) and Lomu (81).

New Zealand: C Cullen; J Wilson, M Mayerhofler, W Little, J Lomu; A Mehrtens, J Marshall; C Dowd (C Hoeft, 41), A Oliver, O Brown, I Jones, R Brooke, M Jones, T Randell (capt), M Carter (S Robertson, 64).

Australia: M Burke; J Little, D Herbert, T Horan, J Roff; S Larkham, G Gregan; D Crowley, P Kearns, A Blades, T Bowman, J Eales (capt), M Cockbain, T Kefu (W Ofahengaue, 68), D Wilson.

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).

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