Rugby Union: Blacks regain lost pride

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Australia. . . . .23

New Zealand. . .26

IN A corner of the Australian changing rooms at the Sydney Football Stadium, French champagne bubbled undrunk in the giant silver bucket that is the Bledisloe Cup.

Nestled among the towels, sandwiches and beansprouts, the 'Holy Grail', as the Wallabies had dubbed it only six days before, drew only cursory glances on Saturday as they padded restlessly past, their thoughts elsewhere.

Across the tunnel, however, New Zealand were already singing. Having convincingly won the third Test, they wasted no time in breaking out their guitars and the six- packs of a more modest sponsor's product. Relieved rather than downright joyous, they realised they had saved their 11-match tour from disaster and avoided being the first All Blacks team in 63 years to lose the series 3-0 to Australia. 'Today we restored some of the pride in New Zealand's rugby,' the coach, Laurie Mains, said.

Has there been a more closely contested series between the two countries? Between any two countries? The Wallabies won the first two by one and two points respectively, and both teams eventually finished with the same number of tries (six: two in each Test) and the same number of total points.

But according to Mains, who has taken a beating from the Aussie press, this time the All Blacks were decisively the better side. 'We had them covered on everything they were trying to do. In the first two Tests, they were able to slow the game down and break our pattern. But this time we eliminated our mistakes and sped the game up the way we intended to,' he said.

Whereas in the previous two games the lead had changed continually, this time Australia were ahead only once for three minutes, while the half-time score of 13-13 remained unchanged for 15 minutes before a Grant Fox penalty put New Zealand once more into the lead. When, eight minutes later, Jamie Joseph, the Maori flanker, dived over to score, it was the culmination not only of an extraordinary long passage of play, but also of New Zealand's new high-speed open style of rugby.

'In the second half we managed to get good second-phase possession, keep the ball in hand and put the Australians under pressure,' Mains said. This, no doubt, is the way Mains considers the All Blacks can beat South Africa in that long- awaited encounter on 15 August.

Meanwhile, Australia's coach, Bob Dwyer, spoke of his extreme disappointment in the Wallabies' performance ' . . . especially the way we gave away unnecessary points, and failed to choose the right options in our backline play'.

New Zealand effectively shut down the Australian centres, Jason Little and Tim Horan, who have had such an influence in the Wallabies' recent success, while giving their own threequarters, notably Frank Bunce, John Kirwan and John Timu, in his promising new role as full-back, room to move.

In contrast, the Australians were handicapped in the forwards by losing the remarkable John Eales and then Sam Scott-Young through injury. 'We just didn't play to our potential,' Nick Farr- Jones, who suggested Saturday's match was his last Test in Australia, said. 'We'll look back on 1992 as a victory in the Bledisloe Cup. But it is also the year of the one that got away.'

Australia: Tries Farr-Jones, Herbert; Conversions Lynagh 2; Penalties Lynagh 3. New Zealand: Tries Little, Joseph; Conversions Fox 2; Penalties Fox 3; Drop Goal Fox.

AUSTRALIA: M Roebuck; P Carozza, J Little, T Horan, D Campese; M Lynagh, N Farr-Jones (capt); T Daly, P Kearns, E McKenzie, R McCall, J Eales (G Morgan, 36), T Coker, D Wilson, S Scott-Young (A Herbert, 42).

NEW ZEALAND: J Timu; J Kirwan, F Bunce, W Little, V Tuigamala; G Fox, S Strachan; R Loe, S Fitzpatrick (capt) O Brown, I Jones, R Brooke (A Earl, 21), J Joseph, M Jones, Z Brooke.

Referee: P Robin (France).