All Black 'character' decisive, says Henry

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The Independent Online

New Zealand scored two tries in the last 15 minutes to defeat Australia 23-22 on Saturday and sweep the Tri-Nations championship with a record 10th consecutive victory over the Wallabies.

Unrelenting forward pressure after Australia had taken a 22-9 lead into the last quarter resulted in Richie McCaw scampering over the line in the 66th minute. McCaw was playing in his 52nd test as All Blacks skipper to surpass the previous record holder Sean Fitzpatrick.

No 8 Kieran Read barged over the line minutes later and Piri Weepu, laser-accurate all night, converted to put the All Blacks a point up with six minutes left and stun the greater part of the 70,000-plus fans at the Olympic Stadium.

The All Blacks defended stoutly in the final minutes to seal their sixth Tri-Nations victory this year and emerge as the first undefeated team since the southern hemisphere tournament expanded by two matches for each side in 2006.

The loss left Australia with two wins from six starts in the Tri-Nations and time to rue yet another game conceded from a strong position. "Character, character, character. First, second and third," a beaming New Zealand coach Graham Henry said. "We were pretty rusty initially. When you have a break for a few weeks you get a bit of rust. We had a few new guys who hadn't played a lot of test matches as well.

"The guys just showed great character and just hung in there and got better as the game went on and pulled it out of the fire."

Australia, as has often been the case against their archi-rivals, started the brighter of the two sides and took a 14-6 lead at the break. After Weepu posted the first score with a penalty goal in the third minute, winger Lachie Turner was denied a dream return to the Wallabies' lineup minutes later when his try at the left corner was disallowed by video review after he appeared to clip the sideline.

Number eight Ben McCalman snatched the ball out of the ruck then capitalised on rare disorganisation in the All Blacks' defence to set up winger James O'Connor for the Wallabies' first try.

Matt Giteau slotted his third penalty at the stroke of halftime to give the Wallabies an eight-point lead at the break but sprayed a number of others.

Despite Giteau's profligacy, the Wallabies raised hopes of ending their grim losing streak when Will Genia set up Adam Ashley-Cooper for the Wallabies' second try after the break. The scrum-half combined with Quade Cooper to rattle the All Blacks' defence before sending a long pass to Ashley-Cooper who feinted a hand-off before charging over to put the Wallabies up 19-6.

Full-back Kurtley Beale took over kicking duties after Giteau missed his second conversion chance and succeeded with a long-range penalty to extend the lead to 22-9.

McCaw, however, turned the game around and the Wallabies began to fumble and miss passes as the All Blacks' pressure took its toll in the final quarter. At the end of a fierce barrages of drives, Read had the second try and Weepu slotted his second conversion to finish with three penalty goals and 13 points in a perfect display.

Having dominated possession for most of the night, the toll of the Wallabies' trip to South Africa the previous week appeared to tell. The All Blacks charged home to post their 15th consecutive win and surpass the sides who notched nine in a row against the Wallabies from 1936-1947.