Australia seek Tri-Nations triumph after passing French test

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The Independent Online

A confident Australia have set their sights on toppling the world champions South Africa and arch-rivals New Zealand after a perfect start to the southern hemisphere international season.

The Wallabies chalked up their fourth successive triumph with a resounding 22-6 win over France at the Olympic Stadium here on Saturday to maintain an impressive run of results.

Australia were also untroubled when winning their earlier matches against the Barbarians and Italy, and their coach, Robbie Deans, said his team could not have hoped for a better preparation for the Tri-Nations.

"It's been a solid month for us. It's been a really good background for us," Deans said. "This was a good test for us and I think we passed. The next one will be another step up again but we've started the habit [of winning]."

Australia have not won the Tri-Nations since 2001 but believe this year's series is shaping as one of the most open in years. They have conceded just two tries in their four matches after Deans dismantled the rugby league-style defensive system they had used for the past decade and replaced it with his own strategy. "We've become so programmed in our rugby in probably the last 10 years or so – everything was a programmed response and now under Robbie we're playing what's in front of us," the Australia centre Berrick Barnes said. "There's no great science to it. It's just simple. It's using your eyes and using what's in front of you.

"Obviously, boys at the start probably questioned it a bit ... but now everyone's starting to trust it."

The All Blacks, who have won the title for the past four seasons, have struggled with injuries and form in their lead-up matches, losing the first of two Tests at home to France. "Clearly, there's not a lot in it – and the maths would support that as well," Deans said. "So I think we're in for a great Tri-Nations. All the indications are that that'll be the case."

Australia open their Tri-Nations on 18 July against New Zealand at Auckland's Eden Park, where they have not won since 1986.

Meanwhile, New Zealand battled to victory against a dogged Italy in Christchurch on Saturday. The All Blacks scored just one try – through Joe Rokocoko – in the first half to lead 13-3 after a shaky opening 40 minutes.

Further tries for Isaac Ross and his Crusaders team-mate George Whitelock – on debut – finally gave the home side some breathing space but it was far from a vintage performance against a team they have hammered in recent encounters.