South African Rugby

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Kiwis are the champs for this year

The All Blacks won their sixth Tri-Nations title when they beat the Wallabies 34-24 in the final match of the 2005 competition at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday. The teams scored four tries each, but it was penalties that decided the outcome.

Auckland Action: Howlett lends his hand in defence

The victory was predictable and deserved for the best team in the world, but the performance of the patchwork Wallabies was wholly laudable.

After the match Tana Umaga received the huge Tri-Nations Cup from Jock Hobbs, the chairman of SANZAR, and the even bigger Bledisloe Cup from John Graham and Paul McLean, the union presidents of New Zealand and Australia.

Tribute was paid to George Gregan who earned his 114th cap for his country, equalling the record of Jason Leonard for England. Umaga said of him: "It could not happen to a better man. I can't do half the things he does."

Gregan, who had a splendid match, was cheerful about it all, would not commit to anything future, and said: "They don't get any easier. But I'm still enjoying it."

It was the first time the Wallabies had lost five successive Tests since 1969, a record they did not deserve after this heroic effort from a team cobbled together after a string of injuries.

The match started with the All Blacks on fire in their country's 400th Test.

After a return to the traditional haka, the All Blacks New Zealand started with zeal and zest. They were aggressive in and at the tackle, they were much better at the set pieces, they won the turnovers and they scored the points and led 20-0 after 29 minutes.

The game and the glory looked all theirs.

When Drew Mitchell gathered the first downfield kick after the Wallaby kick-off, the All Blacks thumped into him and forced a turn-over. Off the All Blacks went to the left in attack. Leon MacDonald slid a kick through, but George Smith saved and the All Blacks were penalised.

Again the All Blacks put pressure on the first line-out and the Wallabies knocked on. The first scrum fell down and was reset.

When the All Black chasers forced Mitchell to take the ball into touch, the All Blacks were again on the attack. They drove the maul, Al Baxter was penalised and MacDonald goaled from an acute angle.

Three minutes later the All Blacks got their first try. After Chris Jack had won an Australian line-out the All Blacks went left. Tana Umaga, who had a powerful game, handed off Lote Tuqiri and kept steaming ahead as Wallabies tried to cling to him. Mils Muliaina did well to keep the ball in play. The All Blacks came right and then won the ball at a tackle/ruck close to the Wallaby line. Richie McCaw picked up and plunged round on the left for the try. 8-0 after 17 minutes.

It took another three minutes for their next try, one of exquisite simplicity. Piri Weepu kicked down the right and Doug Howlett got the ball. It went wide to the left where Joe Rokocoko lost the ball diving over the line. But the Wallabies were penalised. Tall Ali Williams arrived and tapped, just at the right upright as he looked at them. He took a long-legged stride and kicked a diagonal kick to his right. There Howlett waited for the ball, caught it and dropped to ground for the delightful try.

MacDonald slid a kick ahead which Mitchell, who spent the night under intense pressure, ran the ball into touch. The All Blacks threw deep and peeled infield. The ball went right to give Howlett an overlap and his second try right in the corner, and it took the television match official to confirm it. MacDonald converted from touch. That made it 20-0 and there were visions of a massacre.

The massacre did not materialise.

In a rare raid into All Black territory the Wallabies won a line-out. Gregan delayed his pass and suddenly Mark Gerrard came cutting back past the outstretched hand of Carl Hayman, clean pass Weepu until he was kicked to ground. He popped a pass to Chisholm who went over in the corner for a try which the TMO confirmed.

That made it 20-5 at half-time.

The second half brought a change to the vision, the change of a great Wallaby reversal, in the fashion of the French in the 1999 RWC semi-final at Twickenham.

At a line-out, Rocky Elsom passed form the height to Gregan who gave the Rogers who gave a short pass inside to Gerrard and the wing cut clean through past Hayman and Howlett to score near the posts. Rogers converted. 20-12 after a minute of the second half.

The All Blacks had a chance when they drove a maul and MacDonald kicked a high diagonal for the wide-lurking Rokocoko, but Clyde Rathbone saved, conceding a five-metre scrum. The Wallabies were hard-pressed to defend, but a chip in hope by Mauger brought the relief of a drop-out.

MacDonald seemed to have plenty of time to kick when Tuqiri came storming up on his inside. The big Fijian charged the kick down, footed ahead and scored a try which it took the TMO unconscionably long to decide on. Rogers converted and it was 20-19 with 33 minutes to play.

The sides started swapping players. Luke McAlister came on for MacDonald, whose fitness was confirmed only on the morning of the match, and John Roe and, fatefully, Matt Dunning came on for the Wallabies.

Three minutes after his arrival Dunning stuck his shoulder late into Mauger, who had just kicked, and conceded a silly, silly penalty which McAlister goaled. 23-19. Three minutes later Dunning was penalised at a scrum, and again McAlister goaled. 26-19. Nathan Sharpe was penalised for an air tackle at a line-out - 'crunching' is the vogue term - and McAlister made it 29-19.

Still the Wallabies were not done. From a line-out after a penalty Gregan again did well and then Rogers made a sweet thing of a pass before Smith forged ahead and gave replacement and debutant Lloyd Johansson an overlap pass and a try in the corner. That was the Wallabies' fourth try. Rogers's conversion hit the upright and bounced away.

There were still ten minutes to play, but the only score in this time belonged to the All Blacks.

Mils Muliaina kicked downfield. It seemed harmless but, as they do better than anybody else, the All Blacks chased. Mitchell knocked on some six metres to Howlett who swooped and gathered. He passed to Ryan, a tackle ruck formed and then Keven Mealamu gave Howlett the pass that gave him his first Test hat-trick.

Man of the match: One would so like to make it George Gregan for all sorts of sentimental reasons and he did have a great game, tackling bravely, passing securely, letting play effectively, but there may just have been players more deserving. Mark Gerrard of Australia made a try and scored a try and defended well. George Smith grew as the Wallaby effort grew and Mat Rogers was great at fly-half, proving just how talented he is. Chris Jack was wonderful till he hurt his ankle and was eventually replaced. Piri Weepu plays with great confidence and competence. Tana Umaga was a giant on defence. Richie McCaw was all over the place with his energy. But our Man of the Match is Doug Howlett of the hat-trick, great on attack and great on defence.

Moment of the Match: The Ali Williams kick across to Howlett for the wing's try, the big lock willl be forced to sink a few beers tonight!

Villain of the Match: The players were well mannered, except for Matt Dunning. His late barge, scrum collapse and intemperate outburst against Ali Williams did not become the tone of the match.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries: McCaw, Howlett 3
Con: MacDonald
Pens: MacDonald, McAlister 3

For Australia:
Try: Chisholm, Gerrard, Tuqiri, Johansson
Cons: Rogers 2

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