A fast, physical, fizzing Bled-isloe Cup Test before a captivated audience in Sydney was tilted the way of the Wallabies by their superior dynamism and desire.
Robbie Deans' new-look Australia side, fresh from their victory over South Africa in Perth last Saturday, gave the world another glimpse of the power and potential which threaten to make them a potent force. Pitted against his own country for the first time, Deans, with shrewd planning and tactical acumen, calmly plotted the demise of the All Blacks. His team, expertly prepared to execute a gameplan with precision, had too much pace and enthusiasm for Graham Henry's disappointing and increasinglyragged outfit.
The Australians still had to defend tigerishly, making 112 tackles against 63, yet New Zealand conceded 25 turnovers, double the Wallabies' total, and that cost them the game. It was a stark reminder that the breakdown has become a key area under the experimental law variations which are currently in force.
The New Zealanders' hand-ling skills also let them down completely as their game disintegrated in the final quarter and their defeat, in a match of seven tries which ebbed and flowed like the tide, will cause great alarm back home. It was the All Blacks' second Test loss in a row, after the Springboks' victory in Dunedin, and it underlined the level to which New Zealand have slipped after losing so many experienced players to the northern hemisphere.
Henry made no attempt to hide his disappointment. "The pace of the game was as quick as we had ever seen and in the end our guys ran out of composure and steam," he said. "We turned the ball over too many times in the last quarter and paid the price for not converting some first-half opportunities. But Australia played exceptionally well for 80 minutes."
For Deans, it was an outstanding night. "For the moment, it doesn't get any better than that," he said. "It was great. A lot was asked of the boys and we had to defend for long periods but credit to them, they did that. It was a tough mental test for us when New Zealand got up from 17-5 down to lead 19-17 by scoring either side of half-time. But we responded and it was a tremendous win."
The two teams meet again in Auckland on Saturday and, Deans warned, it will be a harder task for the Wallabies. "We have created a rod for our backs with regard to next week," he said. "The All Blacks will be hurting and they won't want to go down again. You'll see their response next week."
In keeping with a game played at a frantic pace, the Wallabies shot into a 10-0 lead after 10 minutes, the former league player Ryan Cross (below) scoring after a brilliant counter-attacking run by Lote Tuqiri, launched when Mils Muliaina missed touch. The All Blackfull-back atoned for that error by forcing his way over for a try after 24 minutes, but seven minutes later the Wallaby wing Peter Hynes seized on a kick-ahead to score. Matt Giteau, who directedthe Australian game brilliantly, kicked both conversions and a penalty to make the lead 17-5.
New Zealand hit back, their hooker, Andrew Hore, scoring right on half-time and Daniel Carter's conversion making it 17-12 at the break. When the visitors' scrum-half, Andy Ellis, dived over six minutes into the second half, and Carter again converted, the All Blacks were suddenly in front.
Alas for Henry, that was the zenith of his team's achievement. The ambitious, determined Australians refused to buckle and New Zealand started missing tackles and dropping the ball. The Wallaby flanker Rocky Elsom powered over after 55 minutes from broken play, and when the lock James Horwill drove through a tackle for his side's fourth try, five minutes from time, it was all over.
Australia: Tries Cross, Hynes, Elsom, Horwill. Conversions Giteau 4. Penalty Giteau. Drop goal Giteau. New Zealand: Tries Muliaina, Hore, Ellis. Conversions Carter 2.
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; P Hynes, R Cross,B Barnes, L Tuqiri; M Giteau (T Tahu, 77), L Burgess; B Robinson, S Moore (T Polota-Nau, 59), A Baxter(M Dunning, 75), J Horwill, N Sharpe (D Vickerman, 62), R Elsom (P Waugh, 59), W Palu, G Smith (capt).
New Zealand: M Muliaina; A Tuitavake, R Kahui, M Nonu (C Smith, 62), S Sivivatu; D Carter,A Ellis (J Cowan, 46; Ellis, 56-70); A Woodcock,A Hore (K Mealamu, 49), G Somerville (J Afoa, 56), B Thorn, A Williams, R So'oialo (capt), J Kaino, D Braid (S Lauaki, 49).
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).