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Rugby Union

Smith masters the Black arts

Australia 23 - New Zealand 18

Graham Henry suffered his first defeat as All Black coach, a victim of his own side's rank indiscipline and poor decision-making at Sydney's Telstra Stadium.

Graham Henry suffered his first defeat as All Black coach, a victim of his own side's rank indiscipline and poor decision-making at Sydney's Telstra Stadium.

New Zealand carelessly tossed away ascendancy through the constant concession of penalties. Indeed, at times yesterday the Wallabies were kept in the game only by their goal-kicking. Yet the Australians scored the only try of this Tri-Nations match, and mounted a stirring late defensive effort to hang on before the 83,500 crowd.

The technical indiscipline of both sides saw 12 penalty goals kicked, six by each team. Offside, killing the ball and handling in the ruck were offences committed time and again by both sides with New Zealand the worst offenders. But in truth, South African referee Jonathan Kaplan could have blown his whistle far more for offside defences.

The tactics killed the game as a spectacle. It became a heavyweight collision close in, as players hammered each other, trying in vain to breach the watertight defences. But Australia looked the more threatening out wide.

New Zealand started well, yet defensive indiscipline saw them level 12-12 at half-time, despite being more powerful at the scrum where the Wallabies were often in serious trouble. Daniel Carter gave the All Blacks a 9-0 lead after 17 minutes with three penalties, all conceded by a pressured defence slowing the ball.

But the All Blacks lost their cool and early control, when they could not break through. Patience deserted them and they threw ambitious passes which became a source of ball for the foraging Wallaby back row, in which flanker George Smith played superbly.

The All Blacks' decision-making was again poor. Instead of sucking in defenders through the forwards, they played too wide, Carlos Spencer again making too many mistakes in the fly-half role. Indeed, so wretched was his form that he was replaced 10 minutes into the second half by Andrew Mehrtens.

Even so tolerant a referee as Kaplan finally lost patience with New Zealand's policy of deliberate offside, lock Ali Williams being sent to the sin-bin just before half-time.

As the Wallabies won more ball, Henry's men were even less convincing. The hosts took the lead two minutes into the second half through Matt Giteau's fourth penalty and although Spencer levelled four minutes later, it was Australia who snatched the only try of the game. All Black flanker Marty Holah lost possession at the back of a ruck after 48 minutes. Australia swept into the All Black 22 and No 8 David Lyons charged to within a metre of the line. Smith recycled possession and sent wing Lote Tuqiri over. Giteau could not convert, and although Mehrtens closed the gap to 20-18 with a 55th-minute penalty, Australia had the momentum.

Matt Burke, replacing Stirling Mortlock, added his second penalty in the 68th minute and although full-back Mils Muliaina almost reached the Wallaby line, the Australians held on.

Australia: C Latham; C Rathbone (W Sailor 74), S Mortlock (M Burke 17-26, 52), M Giteau, L Tuqiri; S Larkham, G Gregan (capt); W Young (M Dunning 13-23, 75), B Cannon (J Paul 56), A Baxter, J Harrison, N Sharpe (D Vickerman 68), G Smith, P Waugh, D Lyons (J Roe 68).

New Zealand: M Muliaina; D Howlett, T Umaga (capt.), D Carter (S Tuitupou 43), J Rokocoko; C Spencer (A Mehrtens 50) J Marshall; K Meeuws (G Somerville, 68), K Mealamu, C Hayman, C Jack, A Williams, J Gibbes, M Holah, X Rush (M Tuiali'i 74).

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).