New Zealand's Tri-Nations success, their fourth successive year of supremacy in the tournament, contained some compelling lessons for Australia and the World Champions South Africans to digest in the coming months as well as a spying row to add a little spice.
The essential ingredient in Brisbane on Saturday, just as it has been so often down the years, was the All Blacks' ability to dig themselves out of a hole at a crucial time.
To concede two converted tries within six minutes either side of half-time, turning their 7-3 lead into a 17-7 deficit, was a shock to the All Blacks' system. To re-adjust your horizons in such circumstances requires special qualities. But New Zealand did it to such effect that within just 22 minutes, they had the match won at 28-17. Australia's late try by the excellent Ryan Cross came too late.
The row bubbled up when the All Blacks assistant coach, Steve Hansen, claimed an Australian television network filmed one of their closed training sessions and handed the footage to the Wallabies before Saturday's match. Both the Australian team, and a reporter for the Channel Seven network, who Hansen alleges to have filmed Friday's training session, denied the claim.
"It's not a rumour, it's a fact which is really disappointing," Hansen said. "It was Channel Seven, they gave it to the Australians. We know they used it because they told us. It was a bit dumb, but they did."
New Zealand's coach, Graham Henry, said: "I think the game reflected our season." Their revival from 17-7 down in this match mirrored those earlier misfortunes. "It was just a sweet feeling. We have won four Tri-Nations titles but this was probably the sweetest because we had a number of new guys who had never played before," said Henry.
To have rebuilt a side after losing so many players to the northern hemisphere, and retained their Tri-Nations title, may have been Henry's greatest achievement in the job.
Australia, for whom lock James Horwill also looks a real find, have improved this year under Robbie Deans but they have much hard work still to do. Deans bemoaned their poor start on Saturday, saying, "They scored quickly and from our perspective they scored softly," he said.
"From that, they got the sense of belief they needed to get home. We are seeking the consistency the All Blacks have."
Sustained by the brilliance of captain Richie McCaw and also Rodney So'oialo, the All Blacks scored three tries in 17 minutes. Dan Carter's three conversions which pulled them clear completed a stellar performance.
Australia: Tries Ashley-Cooper, Horwill, Cross; Conversions Giteau (3); Penalty Giteau. New Zealand: Tries Muliaina, Woodcock, Weepu, Carter; Conversions Carter (4).
Australia: A Ashley-Cooper; P Hynes, R Cross, S Mortlock (capt), L Tuqiri; M Giteau, S Cordingley; B Robinson, S Moore (A Freier, 71), A Baxter, J Horwill, N Sharpe, R Elsom (H McMeniman, 70), G Smith, W Palu (R Brown, 33).
New Zealand: M Muliaina; R Kahui, C Smith, M Nonu (S Donald, 51), S Sivivatu; D Carter, J Cowan (P Weepu, 55); A Woodcock, A Hore (K Mealamu, 51), G Somerville (J Afoa, 51), B Thorn (A Boric, 78), A Williams, J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), R So'oialo.
Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).
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