Shock pick Donald kicks Australia where it hurts

New Zealand 22 Australia 16
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The Independent Online

The New Zealand coach Graham Henry praised his side's character as they fought back from a 10-point deficit to open their Tri-nations defence with a 22-16 win over Australia yesterday.

Such praise has become familiar for Henry, with the All Blacks having clawed back from second-half deficits in each of their last three encounters against Robbie Deans' Wallabies. New Zealand beat Australia 28-24 in Brisbane and 19-14 in Hong Kong last year to retain the Bledisloe Cup, and at this chilly, windswept ground they had to battle back from 13-3 down after just 22 minutes.

"We got behind early, we were down by 10 and there are only two ways you can go then," Henry said. "The guys showed a lot of character as the game went on."

The All Blacks had a patchy build-up against France and Italy last month when they missed several key players, including their captain Richie McCaw and the No 8 Rodney So'oialo through injury. While both returned yesterday, many were expecting this game to be the best chance for the Wallabies to break their jinx at this venue, where they have not won since 1986.

In the event, the All Blacks' fly-half Stephen Donald repaid the faith of the selectors by kicking 17 points to guide the All Blacks home. Donald, a surprise choice to start the match ahead of Luke McAlister, slotted five penalties, four in the second half alone, and converted McCaw's try to ensure his team recorded their 20th successive victory at Eden Park.

"It's a long way to come from Christchurch Park a week ago to playing a Test match," McCaw said of the rare appearance for his club side last week after recovering from a knee injury. "As the game went on I spoke to guys who had also been out like Rodney and Andrew Hore and that first 20 minutes was [really about] finding your feet again in Test rugby.

"The timing wasn't quite there and sometimes you try to force things but as the game went on I felt that we got better. I look at the team performance and I think there is room for improvement, which is great."

A dejected Deans said his side had failed to capitalise on the several scoring opportunities they had, particularly in the first 20 minutes. "We built a lot of pressure and created a lot of opportunities but didn't come out of it as well as we would have liked in terms of turning it into points," Deans said. "We kept the All Blacks close and allowed them to play that conservative kind of game and grind it out. There was some good play from our lads. We are much better than this time a year ago, but still frustrated to be short."

The fly-half Matt Giteau slotted three penalties and converted Berrick Barnes' fourth-minute try for the Wallabies, who spent most of the second spell pinned in their own half and battling into swirling, chilly winds.

Australia dominated the opening 10 minutes, with Barnes ghosting through a porous All Blacks defence. After converting the try Giteau added a penalty to give the visitors a 10-0 lead before Donald slotted his first penalty. Barnes blew an chance to extend the lead when he failed to find one of six support players with three All Blacks defending the line. When he finally fed George Smith, the flanker dropped the ball with the tryline open.

So'oialo was a prominent figure as the All Blacks recycled quickly and changed their angles of attack. Centre Conrad Smith then straightened the line and fed inside to the ever-present McCaw, who crashed over.

Donald landed two penalties at the start of the second half to give the home side the lead for the first time, though that lasted only two minutes with Giteau's third penalty levelling the score at 16-16. Donald's third of the half edged the All Blacks ahead again, and he added another with seven minutes remaining to ensure victory.

New Zealand: Muliaina, Jane, Smith, Nonu, Sivivatu, Donald, Cowan, So'oialo, McCaw, Kaino, Ross, Thorn, Tialata, Hore, Woodcock. Replacements: Mealamu, Franks, Eaton, Read, Weepu, McAlister, Rokocoko.

Australia: Ashley-Cooper, Turner, Mortlock, Barnes, Mitchell, Giteau, Burgess, Palu, Smith, Brown, Sharpe, Horwill, Baxter, Moore, Robinson. Replacements: Polota-Nau, Alexander, Mumm, Waugh, Pocock, Genia, O'Connor.

Referee: M Lawrence (South Africa).