Saturday 25 November 2017

Blacks' mean machine edges closer to title

New Zealand 20
Australia 10

Peter Bills

South Africa said farewell to their Tri Nations title in rainy Christchurch yesterday as the All Blacks carved out their fourth successive win of this year's competition.

By failing to clinch a bonus point for four tries in this game, New Zealand finished a point short of putting the Tri Nations title beyond Australia, the only other side that can now win it. But they can only do that if New Zealand fail to take a single point from their last two games and that is unthinkable given their current supremacy.

The only good news for the Springboks, who face New Zealand at Soccer City on Saturday week, was that this was nowhere near as commanding a win as the All Blacks had managed seven days earlier over Australia in Melbourne.

But the bad news for Peter de Villiers' men was that New Zealand showed another crucial weapon in their armoury: a tight, supremely organised defence which proved the match-winning factor.

Having secured the Bledisloe Cup with this victory, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw admitted: "Our defence won us the match. We had to do a lot of defending and when you haven't got the ball that takes a lot out of you. But we stuck at it and forced some critical turnovers. We had to really dog it out today."

So if anyone thought this new-look All Blacks side was a one-trick pony, able to impress only with ball in hand going forward, they got a rude awakening. Graham Henry's men showed they were just as impressive without possession and under pressure.

At one stage, New Zealand had made 120 tackles, just about double the number by the Wallabies who dominated possession. But for all their ball, Australia just couldn't find a way through the tight, perfectly structured New Zealand defence.

"We weren't as sharp as we had been but I was pleased with our defensive structure, although we turned over a bit too much ball," said Graham Henry.

Both teams were guilty of that, each losing close on 20 balls in the game. Yet even without the ball, there was no doubting New Zealand's superiority. The Australians lacked innovation in how they used the ball and were relentlessly put on the ground by the New Zealand tacklers. They lacked class, decision-makers and line-breakers.

Coach Robbie Deans claimed: "It was an improvement from us, we had a lot more possession and pressure. But we weren't able to turn that into points."

The breakdown was again crucial and if New Zealand did not get there first to contest vigorously, they dropped off to ensure the defensive line remained intact. It was a puzzle the Wallabies never solved.

Three tries in the first 14 minutes, two by the All Blacks, seemed to suggest a similar try-blitz to the 10 scored by these teams last weekend in Melbourne. The All Blacks went ahead after six minutes when full-back Mils Muliaina got away down the left for his fourth try in three games, the move starting way back upfield from a quick throw-in.

Kurtley Beale found clear space in the All Blacks defence to race 65 metres for an equalising try three minutes later but Conrad Smith restored New Zealand's lead five minutes afterwards following a series of darts at the Wallaby defence.

New Zealand led 17-10 at half-time but the only score of a tight, physical second half was a Dan Carter penalty after 70 minutes.

Scorers -- New Zealand: Muliaina, Smith tries; Carter 2 pens, 2 cons. Australia: Beale try, Giteau pen, con.

New Zealand: M Muliaina; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, J Rokocoko; D Carter, P Weepu (A Matthewson 76); A Woodcock, K Mealamu (C Flynn 76), O Franks (B Franks 42), B Thorn, T Donnelly (S Whitelock 50), J Kaino (V Vito 68), R McCaw, K Read.

Australia: K Beale; J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, A Faingaa, D Mitchell; M Giteau, W Genia; B Robinson, S Faingaa, S Ma'afu (J Slipper 64), D Mumm, N Sharpe (R Simmons 64), R Elsom, D Pocock, R Brown (M Hodgson 55).

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa)

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