15 Sep 2008

All Blacks storm back to keep Tri-Nations crown

6:56 am on 15 September 2008

The All Blacks claimed their ninth Tri-Nations title and their fourth in a row when they beat Australia 28-24 in a thrilling deciding match on Saturday.

Trailing 7-10 at halftime, the All Blacks stormed back to score three converted tries in the second half and overrun a tiring Australian team.

Australia battled bravely throughout and enjoyed long periods in attack but could never break clear of their rivals, and once the All Blacks sensed they had the better of the Wallabies they gradually took control.

Flyhalf Dan Carter scored the winning try with 12 minutes left to seal the victory, although Australia kept the 52,000 fans on the edge of their seats when centre Ryan Cross crashed over with two minutes to go to get to within four points.

But it was too little too late as New Zealand took out both the Tri-Nations title and the Bledisloe Cup.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry said his side had shown enormous character to beat an inspired Australian outfit.

"I've just got a huge amount of respect for what the guys did out there tonight," he said.

"They were down 17-7 tonight and showed a lot of togetherness and guts to come back from that. I think the guys got better as the game went on - I didn't think we played particularly well in the first half."

New Zealand end the tournament with four wins from six games, ahead of Australia (3-6) and South Africa (2-6).

Bright start

Australia started brightly and dominated possession in the opening exchanges, but they were unable to make any impression on the All Blacks defence.

When New Zealand finally got their hands on the ball they took immediate advantage with fullback Mils Muliaina crossing after some quick hands from flanker Jerome Kaino and centre Ma'a Nonu. Carter converted to make it 7-0 after 13 minutes.

Australia hit back with a penalty to flyhalf Matt Giteau but although they enjoyed most of the possession in the first half they were denied by some resolute defence.

The Wallabies' cause was not helped when blockbusting No.8 Wycliff Palu damaged a knee ligament and was forced from the field, giving Western Force's Richard Brown his test debut.

It looked as though the visitors would hold their lead at the half time break until fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper scored out wide following a cross-field kick from Giteau.

Long pass

The Wallabies started the second half as they finished the first, with Giteau finding James Horwill with a long pass and the giant lock crashing over Carter's tackle to put Australia 10 points clear.

But five minutes later outstanding New Zealand centre Conrad Smith made a break and found unlikely support from prop Tony Woodcock, who sprinted 23 metres down the sideline to score in the corner, Carter's conversion closing the gap to three points.

"I think the try 'Woodie' scored in the corner was pretty significant," Henry said.

"It boosted us and I think the Aussies might probably have dropped their heads a little bit."

The Wallabies then had a golden chance when they held the ball for 14 phases camped on the New Zealand line but were unable to cross.

"If they had scored then it may have been a different story," Henry said. "There was a lot of digging deep then, guys working together to try and stop that happening, and they did, so it was pretty important, those two situations."

The All Blacks seemed to grow in confidence from that point and were soon over for a converted try when replacement scrumhalf Piri Weepu scored after winger Sitiveni Sivivatu broke the Wallaby line and popped the ball up to the charging Weepu.

Carter then bounced out of Cross's tackle soon after to score under the posts and put the game out of the Wallabies' reach despite Cross's late try.

"The majority of our tries were hard fought for," a disappointed Australian captain Stirling Mortlock said.

"Both their tries that put them back in the lead were quite soft. We had defensive lapses and they really got their tails up."