New Zealand clinch late victory in Sydney

Australia 18 New Zealand 19
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The Independent Online

South African referee Jonathan Kaplan gave an outstanding display of calm, controlled yet disciplined officiating as New Zealand snatched the Tri-Nations Test in Sydney in the 79th minute.

Kaplan played the decisive act in the final moments by penalising Australia for not releasing the ball, when they were caught in trouble near their own line with the rampant All Blacks hunting the killer blow. Kaplan rightly decided the Wallaby defenders had clung on too long and handed New Zealand a crucial penalty. Dan Carter kicked it, his fourth of the game, to snatch a single point victory for the under pressure New Zealanders.

It was a dramatic end to an increasingly dramatic Test match which Australia had led 12-3 at half time, four Matt Giteau penalties to one by Carter. It seemed for long periods as though the Wallabies, who face South Africa in Perth this coming Saturday, would get home on the back of some tremendous, structured defence.

But New Zealand's forwards took charge in the second half, upping the tempo and posing more problems for the Australians. They also cut out many of the errors they'd made in the first half and which had prevented them gaining rhythm or momentum. The only try came in the 65th minute, made and scored by substitute Ma'a Nonu, after he cleverly supported a run by Sitiveni Sivivatu. Carter converted.

Where Kaplan impressed was in his consistency and refusal to allow players to kill the ball at the breakdown. This increasing blight on the modern game is cynical and a major turn off to spectators. Weak refereeing has allowed too many players to get away with it but Kaplan showed that, if an official is prepared to be strict as well as fair and consistent, most players soon get the message.

Such an example of proper, tough refereeing has been long overdue in the game.

Kaplan warned All Black captain Richie McCaw just before half time that he was within an ace of resorting to yellow cards, after New Zealand half-back Jimmy Cowan played the ball from an offside position. When Australian No. 8 Richard Brown made a dangerous tackle two minutes into the second half, he received the yellow card.

Because Kaplan had patiently yet firmly laid down the law and strictly enforced it throughout the first half in Sydney, we saw more attempts at attacking rugby, players running with ball in hand, than we'd seen by South Africa in their three home Tri-Nations matches in recent weeks. The Springboks have shown that they have little interest in playing a 15 man game but in fairness to them, they have hardly been encouraged in that respect by seeing so many so-called top referees cravenly allowing players to kill the ball on the ground.

Kaplan showed from the start in Sydney he was not prepared to tolerate that and the outcome was much more attacking play. None of this seems rocket science to most of us but I have been amazed, and profoundly depressed, by most officials' reluctance to take on the offenders and sort them out. Kaplan's performance in Sydney ought to be a clarion call for others in his business to do likewise and get tough. The game prospers from it.

The South Africans will have watched closely this Australian performance with next Saturday's Test at Subiaco Oval, Perth, in mind. They will have noted the Wallabies' inability to score any tries, relying too much on Giteau, who landed six penalties. As long as the Springboks cut out individual errors and play with discipline, they can negate the Giteau factor.

Australia's attacking play was hampered by the loss of centre Berrick Barnes at half time. But they rarely found the creativity to break through and when the All Blacks' forwards got on top in the second half, the Wallabies could only cling on, relying entirely on their defence for survival. It wasn't quite enough and South Africa will set out next week to get on top again up front. That, surely, will once more be decisive.

It was a tense finish in Sydney and it was true, there was the intent to achieve much more running rugby than we'd seen by the Springboks. But there were also far too many mistakes and individual errors to call it a high class Test match. The Springboks look in a class of their own in this year's Tri-Nations competition and they should complete the job by winning in Perth next weekend.



Penalty Goals: Giteau (6)

New Zealand:

Try: Nonu.

Conversion: Carter

Pen. Gls: Carter (4)

Yellow card: R. Brown (Australia)