Rugby Union: Kearns keeps All Blacks at bay: Australia's stand-in captain inspires his team to regain Bledisloe Cup

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The Independent Online
Australia. .20 New Zealand. .16

PHIL KEARNS, the captain of Australia, provided inspirational leadership as his team regained the Bledisloe Cup with a 20-16 win over the All Blacks in Sydney yesterday. Kearns, the hooker, scored a crucial second try for Australia, the world champions, then led the team's resistance to thwart New Zealand's onslaught in the second half.

'This is a fantastic feeling,' Kearns, Australia's acting captain in the absence of their injured stand-off Michael Lynagh, told a record crowd of 41,917 at the Sydney Football Stadium before lifting the trophy. 'New Zealand are an awesome rugby team and I am very proud of my side,' he said. 'They are a great bunch of lads.'

Australia raced to a 17-6 lead at half-time before the All Blacks staged a revival, which took them to only one point behind with 14 minutes remaining. Three minutes later, the full-back Shane Howarth, who scored all his side's points, missed a penalty which would have given New Zealand the lead.

That mistake proved the turning point of a rugged match. The stand- off David Knox landed a penalty four minutes later to secure Australia's win. Knox finished with two conversions and two penalties.

The centre Jason Little gave Australia the perfect start with a try after just 16 seconds when he caught a high kick from Knox on the All Black goal line. It was the second time in successive matches Little has scored with his first touch in a Test match. He scored a try in the first minute in Australia's 73-3 rout of Western Samoa 12 days ago.

While the Wallabies raised their arms in triumph at the final whistle, the All Blacks' defeat increased the pressure on their beseiged coach, Laurie Mains. New Zealand have won only two of their six Test matches during the southern hemisphere's winter, increasing speculation that Mains will be sacked when the New Zealand Rugby Union meets next month.

Australia, in contrast, have an unbeaten record this season after their earlier series wins against Ireland and Italy.

Australia: Tries Little, Kearns; Conversions Knox 2; Penalties Knox 2. New Zealand: Try Howarth; Conversion Howarth; Penalties Howarth 3.

AUSTRALIA: M Pini (D Junee, 69); D Smith, J Little, P Howard, D Campese; D Knox, G Gregan; T Daly, P Kearns (capt), E McKenzie, G Morgan, J Eales, W Ofahengaue, T Gavin, D Wilson.

NEW ZEALAND: S Howarth; J Wilson, F Bunce, W Little, J Timu; S Bachop, G Bachop; R Loe, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, M Cooksley, I Jones, M Brewer, Z Brooke, M Jones.

Referee: E Morrison (England).

Tim Rodber will learn today whether the Rugby Football Union intends to take action against him for his sending-off during England's tour of South Africa. two months ago. The executive committee will discuss all aspects of the match against Eastern Province and Rodber could face a suspension.

(Photograph omitted)