Given their crass inability to locate their opponents' goal-line from a yard or two out, it might be some surprise if Robbie Deans' Australians found Tokyo airport for their flight to London yesterday. The Wallabies, whom England meet at Twickenham on Saturday, suffered their seventh successive loss to the All Blacks, as much by their own inadequacies and failings as New Zealand's stellar qualities.
In truth, Saturday's Tokyo Bledisloe Cup Test match, played there because of the huge financial guarantees to each financially pressed nation, should have offered significant hope to all the Six Nations countries. These are far from halcyon days for either Australia or New Zealand, with South Africa significantly ahead of both countries.
The Wallabies led New Zealand 16-13 at half-time and only their ability to butcher try-scoring chances inside the All Blacks' 22, kept the margin to three points at that stage. All the New Zealanders had to do after the break was call up Dan Carter to punish the Wallabies for a series of technical offences. Carter landed six penalties in all, four in the last 20 minutes, as the Wallabies added technical incompetence to their earlier failings in attack. No wonder Deans increasingly wears the hang-dog expression of a man who sees only trouble ahead.
The Australians lost Berrick Barnes, their classy midfield playmaker, for the whole tour, in a training mishap before this Test. Without him, they can boast only two seriously talented internationals behind the scrum, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper.In fact, the only Australian in Tokyo to show true authority was Giteau, who took the ball over the gain line with regularity. But he was a lone beacon on a dark night. Gone was the Australian swagger that illuminated their Grand Slam tour to these parts under Andrew Slack in 1984.
The All Blacks scored a try in each half, by Sitiveni Sivivatu and Conrad Smith. Peter Hynes, meanwhile, was fortunate to be awarded a try for Australia when he seemed to ground the ball short of the line and then lose control of it.
Giteau converted and landed four penalties, but this is a shadow of those former great Australian sides – a point the northern hemisphere countries will be keen to underline this month.
Australia: Try Hynes; Conversion Giteau; Penalties Giteau (4). New Zealand: Tries Sivivatu, Smith; Conversions Carter (2); Penalties Carter (6).
Australia: O'Connor; Hynes, Cross, Ashley-Cooper, Ioane; Giteau, Genia; Robinson, Moore (Polota-Nau, 49), Alexander, Horwill, Chisholm (Mumm, 50), Elsom, Pocock, Palu (Smith, 54).
New Zealand: Muliaina; Jane, C Smith, Nonu, Sivivatu; Carter, Cowan; Woodcock, Hore, Tialata (Afoa, 46), Thorn, Donnelly, Thomson, McCaw, So'oialo (Read, 54).
Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).