Australia 9 New Zealand 13: McCaw shackles with his tackles

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The Independent Online

New Zealand got out of jail here, stumbling over the finishing line battered and bruised by the Wallabies in a Tri-Nations Test of fearsome intensity. The All Blacks had to make 108 tackles to deny a spirited Australian effort that was crucially undermined by poor execution of skills at key moments and failure to nail chances in the second half.

The All Blacks' coach, Graham Henry, said: "It was a marvellous Test match. The traditionalists, those who know the game, should have loved it. It was a quality game between two quality teams." However, that was only partially correct. Quality was hardly the word to describe the All Blacks' line-out, which lost nine of its own throws. And Australia's finishing, when they had New Zealand hanging on desperately after half- time, was woeful. Had it been better, the All Blacks would have lost.

A record crowd of 52,498 at the SunCorp Stadium saw New Zealand capitalise on two early Australian errors to take a 10-3 lead. Ultimately, those mistakes cost the Wallabies the game, given the dearth of creative, attacking rugby on display.

Jerry Collins fed Joe Rokocoko after 10 minutes. Thewing eluded a Rocky Elsom tackle, sneaked down the touchline, stepped inside Chris Latham and scored, Daniel Carter converting. Soon after, the Australians compounded the error by delaying their own throw-in and conceding a free-kick. At the breakdown, Elsom was caught handling in the ruck and Carter kicked a soaring penalty.

In a tight Test, which saw New Zealand also retain the Bledisloe Cup, those early points were critical. But the visitors would not have squeezed home without a superb back-row performance from their captain, Richie McCaw, who made 19 tackles. One moment that stood out came in the 55th minute, whenMark Gerrard raced down the right and cut inside only to be caught by McCaw and stripped of the ball for a vital turnover.

Henry said: "He was superb in defence. You can't play better than that."

Australia had 67 per cent of the territory in the first half but could manage only two penalties by Stirling Mortlock. The All Blacks extended their lead to 13-6 in the 58th minute when Carter dropped a goal. Mortlock trimmed the lead three minutes later with his third penalty, and as the New Zealand line-out disintegrated, Australia drove towards the All Blacks' 22.

But when the ball was moved wide, Gerrard dropped it and the chance was lost. The Wallabies had one more glorious opportunity to score but Stephen Larkham wasted a 3-to-1 overlap with a poor pass.

Australia: C Latham; M Gerrard (M Rogers, 75), S Mortlock, M Giteau, L Tuqiri (C Rathbone, 74); S Larkham, G Gregan (capt; S Cordingley, 73); G Holmes, J Paul (T McIsaac, 61), R Blake (G Shepherdson, 77), N Sharpe, D Vickerman, R Elsom (P Waugh, 61), G Smith, S. Fava (M Chisholm, 61).

New Zealand: L MacDonald; R Gear, M Muliaina, A Mauger, J Rokocoko; D Carter, B Kelleher (J Cowan, 75); A Woodcock (G Somerville, 68), K Mealamu (A Hore, 75), C Hayman, C Jack, A Williams (J Eaton, 74), J Collins (C Masoe, 62), R McCaw (capt), R So'oialo.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).