Tri-Nations Review: Australia vs New Zealand

Tri-Nations Review: Australia vs New Zealand
Mortlock and that pass (photo c/o Rugby Heaven)

Wallabies overrun All Blacks
(you little beauty)

Australia 20 – New Zealand 15

DO they come sweeter than this? As one of the many Aussie rugby fans despairing of our slip from the top table of rugby over the past years, this was a victory out of the top drawer. It showed guts, skill, hints of greatness, and that most important element missing from the Wallabies in the recent past; self-belief.

As with many a great Wallaby performance, this wasn’t the case for the full 80 minutes; the best word to summarise Australia’s first half being ‘woefully inaccurate’. Kicks, throws, passes and tackles all went astray at exactly the wrong times. New Zealand broke the gain line almost at will and it was only the dogged Wallaby hustle in defence that kept the score to 6-15 at the break. Apart from one Larkham stab kick to the in-goal, the Australia backs looked impotent.

My notes said: “No kicking game, breakdown poor, re-starts poor, scrum creaking, defence just holding. Connolly has his work cut out at half time.”

But what a second half. In the 44th minute, Mortlock found man of the match form, making his first line-break of many, straight through the All Black midfield and into their 22. However, a few phases later Shepherdson’s inexperience gave away a double movement penalty. Had he squandered a turning point? It seemed so when two out of sorts Kiwi’s – Carter and Mauger – just fluffed a certain try with the last pass.

But then in the 61st minute, the tide finally turned. Consistent Australian recycling forced All Black fouls and Hayman, committing the third ruck offence in 3 minutes, found himself with a yellow card. One minute later, Larkham re-discovered how to ghost through a defensive line and offloaded to Tuquiri on the angle. All of a sudden the Kiwi defence was scrambling and from a quick ruck, Sharpe, having his best game in a Wallaby jersey and filling Eales’ shoes at last, threw a gem of a pass to cut out two men and find Ashley-Cooper a metre in from the line.

Until now the rookie Wallaby had hadn’t put a foot wrong, and he took his chance to slate himself in as a future great by shrugging off tackles from Gear, McCaw and Jack to power his way over the line. Giteau showed himself a class of kicker from that Mortlock isn’t by slotting one from the sideline and the score was 13-15.

By then the New Zealand bubble had well and truly burst. Carter missed a simple penalty and Mauger put an unpressured punt out on the full. From the lineout, Mortlock made his most telling run from midfield, brushing past McAllister and then accelerating deep into the All Black 22, drawing four players to his rampaging bulk, before overhead dump-passing to Staniforth in support, putting the reserve over between the posts. Giteau conversion. 20-15 with seven minutes to play.

From then on the Wallabies did a great job of shutting the game out with one-out forward drives, until with 10 seconds to go, they gave away a penalty for holding, on half way. Nothing for it, the Kiwi’s threw the kitchen sink at a Wallaby team that wouldn’t give in, forcing a final turn over. Giteau to touch, end of story.

A cynic (or Kiwi) could say “Well done, you won at home by just 5 points.” This doesn’t tell the story though. Australia not only scored 14 unanswered points in the second half, they totally destroyed the All Black midfield. ‘Saint’ Richie McCaw missed 1 on 1 tackles in both tries. This was the first time the All Blacks had led at half time and lost in 55 tests, and it showed in their ‘does not compute’ confounded facial expressions.

What this means for the Tri-Nations and World Cup will be pored over in the coming days. In the meantime, it’s good to be a Wallaby supporter again. Well done Knuckles, we have a team and it seems to be getting better.

AUSTRALIA 20 (Adam Ashley-Cooper, Scott Staniforth tries; Stirling Mortlock 2 pens, Matt Giteau 2 cons) bt NEW ZEALAND 15 (Tony Woodcock, Rico Gear tries; Daniel Carter 1 con, 1 pen) at MCG. Referee: Marius Jonker (RSA). Crowd: 79,322.


Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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