New Zealand’s Tri-Nations success, their fourth successive year of supremacy in the tournament, contained some compelling lessons for Australia and the World Champion South Africans to digest in the coming months.
The essential ingredient in Brisbane on Saturday, just as it has been so often down the years, was the All Blacks’ ability to dig themselves out of a hole at a crucial time. This factor, to be found in all the great champion sides and individuals, is what separates the winners from losers.
To concede two converted tries within six minutes either side of half time, turning their 7-3 lead into a 17-7 deficit, was a shock to the All Blacks’ system. To re-focus, re-adjust your horizons in such circumstances requires special qualities. But New Zealand did it to such effect that within just 22 minutes, they had the match won at 28-17. Australia’s late try by the excellent Ryan Cross, came too late.
The South Africans under Peter de Villiers have yet to show they possess similar qualities of tenacity, self belief, determination and a healthy streak of sheer stubbornness that runs right through the entire side. In Perth, Cape Town and Durban, they had chances to demonstrate it but failed.
Adding these qualities to their respective countries represents the toughest test for de Villiers and Wallaby coach Robbie Deans. Only if they can do so will they seriously challenge this newly re-built New Zealand side in next year’s Tri-Nations. Until then, whatever the outcome of the November Tests in the northern hemisphere, South Africa must live with the reality that 2008 has been a year of failure. As a follow-up to the World Cup triumph, it has been a considerable let down.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry was as calm and undemonstrative as ever, even in his moment of triumph. With huge understatement, he said “I think the game reflected our season.”
What he meant by that was, the All Blacks were down earlier in the year after they lost two games and they showed considerable guts and character to come back from that.
Their revival from 17-7 down in this match mirrored those earlier misfortunes.
"It was just a sweet feeling. We have won four Tri-Nations titles but this was probably the sweetest because we had a number of new guys who had never played before," said Henry.
To have re-built a side after losing so many players to the northern hemisphere, and retained their Tri-Nations title may have been Henry’s greatest achievement in the job. Already, he looks a banker for the IRB’s ‘Coach of the Year’ award at the end of November.
Australia, for whom lock James Horwill also looks a real find, have improved this year under Robbie Deans but, like the Springboks, they have much hard work still to do. Deans bemoaned their poor start on Saturday, saying “They scored quickly and from our perspective they scored softly," he said.
"From that, they got the sense of belief they needed to get home. We are seeking the consistency the All Blacks have. They have this habit of winning these types of games.”
Sustained by the brilliance of their captain Richie McCaw and also Rodney So’oialo, both of whom ensured New Zealand enjoyed supremacy at the crucial breakdown phase, the All Blacks scored three tries in 17 minutes through Tony Woodcock, Piri Weepu and Dan Carter. Carter’s three conversions which pulled them well clear completed a stellar performance.
Australia: Tries: Ashley-Cooper, Horwill, Cross. Conversions: Giteau (3). Pen. Gl: Giteau
New Zealand: Tries: Muliaina, Woodcock, Weepu, Carter. Conversions: Carter (4).
Australia: A. Ashley-Cooper; P. Hynes, R. Cross, S. Mortlock (Capt.), L. Tuqiri; M. Giteau, S. Cordingley; B. Robinson, S. Moore (sub. A. Freier 71 mins), A. Baxter, J. Horwill, N. Sharpe, R. Elsom (sub. H. McMeniman 70 mins), G. Smith, W. Palu (sub. R. Brown 33 mins).
New Zealand: M. Muliaina; R. Kahui, C. Smith, M. Nonu (sub. S. Donald 51 mins), S. Sivivatu; D. Carter, J. Cowan (sub. P. Weepu 55 mins); A. Woodcock, A. Hore (sub. K. Mealamu 51 mins), G. Somerville (sub. J. Afoa 51 mins), B. Thorn (sub. A. Boric 78 mins), A. Williams, J. Kaino, R. McCaw (Capt.), R. So’oialo.
Referee: J. Kaplan (South Africa)