Mitchell one bright spot on black day for Australia


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Australia may be short on class but they will be competitive to their dying day. Besides, when did any side win the Tri-Nations by taking its opponents lightly?

New Zealand have completed the overseas section of their campaign with a haul of five points from two matches.

If we assume they will win both their home games, a not unreasonable assumption to make after their performances against the British and Irish Lions, then South Africa will have at the very least to beat Australia in Perth this Saturday and take a bonus point from their other game, against New Zealand in Dunedin, just to match the All Blacks on points.

That calculation ignores the very real possibility that New Zealand might take an extra bonus point by scoring four tries against the Wallabies in Auckland on the final day of the tournament. That South Africa could not deny New Zealand a bonus point in Cape Town, despite their victory, might yet prove the deciding moment of this tournament.

All that should show South Africa how tough it is going to be to retain their title, because New Zealand have raised the barrier so much higher this year. The Springboks must aspire to levels of performance hitherto unknown to them.

As for Australia, their problems start at the top. George Gregan is no longer the threat he once was at scrum-half. He does not break, sniping assiduously around the fringes as once was his wont, and is now no more than a link.

Thus, the defence can shift sideways without concern, meaning even fewer gaps for those in the Wallaby back line.

The Australians' one positive to take out of this Test was the discovery of the full-back Drew Mitchell on his first start at Test level. He looked the business: sharp, fast, with an eye for a gap and the pace to exploit it. Alas, his slipped tackle on Joe Rokocoko set up the position for Piri Weepu's first-half try that got the All Blacks back into the match.

But Mitchell scored Australia's only try and looked to be precisely the kind of player they have not been producing of late - talented, fast, lively and young.

The Australian scrum was under heavy pressure, constantly being forced to retreat on its own ball. That gave the New Zealand back row an armchair ride. They are too good for any side to give them that luxury.

The All Blacks could even afford generosity, to the extent of handing Australia an early 13-0 lead. Alas for the Wallabies, it was illusory. Once New Zealand began to play, they dominated the match in almost every phase.

Only Australia's desperate defence and New Zealand's erratic finishing kept the floodgates closed, for a time.

Two converted tries in the last 14 minutes finally took the All Blacks clear, but they should have buried the Wallabies much earlier.

For New Zealand still to have been behind at half time, 13-10, was faintly absurd. The first 11 minutes apart, they had been all over the Wallabies.

Their coach, Graham Henry, hailed the victory but admitted this was far from the definitive performance. "We're making the chances all right, but I'd like to see us putting away a much greater percentage of them" he said.

Gregan confronted reality. "We started well," he said, "but they fought back like a great All Black team does. It was disappointing for us."

Australia: Try Mitchell; Conversion Giteau; Penalties Giteau 2. New Zealand: Tries Weepu, McCaw, Rokocoko; Conversions Carter 2, McAlister; Penalties Carter 3.

Australia: D Mitchell; M Gerrard, S Mortlock, M Turinui (C Rathbone, 50), L Tuqiri; M Giteau (E Flatley, 36; Gregan, 77), G Gregan (capt; C Whitaker, 67); B Young, J Paul (B Cannon, 33), A Baxter, D Vickerman, N Sharpe (M Chisholm, 67), J Roe, G Smith, D Lyons (P Waugh, 55).

New Zealand: M Muliaina; R Gear, T Umaga (capt), A Mauger, J Rokocoko; D Carter (L McAlister, 68), P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu (D Whitcombe, 68), C Hayman (G Somerville, 60), C Jack, A Williams (J Ryan, 77), J Collins, R McCaw, R So'oialo (M Holah, 75).

Referee: T Spreadbury (England).