All Blacks battle past Australia in thriller
July 15, 2000
Pita Alatini celebrates after crossing to score for New Zealand
© Getty Images
Wallaby captain John Eales described it as the most amazing game of his illustrious career after it took Jonah Lomu's injury-time try to separate the two teams, who had both crossed for five tries each.
Never before has a game of international rugby had such an explosive start with the All Blacks scoring three tries in the opening five minutes to race to a 21-0 lead. Had the smallest man on the field, George Gregan, not stopped the biggest man, Lomu, in the seventh minute it would have been 28-0.
If 21-0 wasn't bad enough, a penalty to Andrew Mehrtens made it an amazing 24-0 after just nine minutes. In any other galaxy that's tantamount to rugby suicide against the All Blacks.
Any other side would have been shellshocked, but the Wallabies are the world champions and they bounced back with appropriate determination. When they levelled at 24-all after 31 minutes the crowd had been treated to seven tries and it was almost a relief - for exhausted players and spectators - when the whistle went for half-time.
A world record rugby crowd of 109,874 was treated to an extraordinary half of football. Three more tries in the second half was almost as good and when Lomu crashed over for the winning try in the 78th minute, the crowd knew they had witnessed something special.
It was the highest scoring match ever played between the two sides. This was the new face of modern rugby and those who don't subscribe should pack up and go home. Sure some of the defence was more akin to touch football, but such was the pace of this game both sides' defences simply struggled to keep up.
When Tana Umaga crossed for the first try in just the second minute of play, who would have predicted the contest that was to come. The Wellington flyer intercepted a rushed pass from Wallaby fullback Chris Latham as he tried to clean up the loose ball ball following an Andrew Mehrtens kick that ricocheted off Jason Little.
From the restart, the All Blacks spun the ball wide to Lomu. The big man steamed down the sideline, brushed off the tackle of Latham, before passing inside to centre Pita Alatini for the second try. Lomu was at his blockbusting best for the All Blacks, at times brushing off the Australian backs like flies.
The Wallabies barely had time to recover from Alatini's try, when Wellington centre Alama Ieremia again found some space. Alatini loomed in support before he handed off to Cullen for the third New Zealand try in just five minutes.
Gregan's tackle on Lomu two minutes later finally stopped the rot for the Wallabies. Mehrtens' penalty did add some salt to the wound, but it's doubtful if things could have got any worse.
Fortunately for the Wallabies they didn't, and taking a leaf out of the All Blacks book, capitalised on an error at the restart by Norm Maxwell. Latham broke through the defence and found Mortlock out wide, and he went on to convert his own try.
Although it wasn't until another 10 minutes before the next try was scored, at no stage did the pace of the game drop. However, even the most fanatical Wallaby supporter would have still doubted the side's chances of staging a comeback. All, perhaps, except for Wallaby coach Rod Macqueen, who rated the Australian recovery that was to follow as the best rugby his side had played fro a long time.
Mortlock crossed for his second try in the 19th minute and the signs were there that the Wallabies were starting to dominate. Their recycling of possession was excellent and backrowers Jim Williams and David Wilson were inspirational. Latham crossed for a converted try in the 27th minute and when Roff barged over in the 31st minute the great revival was complete with the scores level at 24-all.
For All Black fans, there were shades of the disastrous World Cup semi-final against France at Twickenham, when New Zealand led 24-10 only to let France surge home for a 43-31 victory.
To complete a remarkable turnaround, Mortlock landed a penalty seven minutes after the break to give the Wallabies a 27-24 lead.
But as was the case so often in the first half, the restart proved crucial with All Blacks No.8 Ron Cribb making a break for Marshall to score in the 48th minute. Mehrtens, who was relatively quite for much of the game, and Mortlock shared penalty goals, and with 15 minutes remaining the game was evenly poised with the All Blacks leading 34-30.
The Wallabies had the best of the opportunities, but could not convert until replacement hooker Jeremy Paul crossed in the corner in the 73rd minute, following the initial break by Gregan. Replacement Andrew Walker, who joined an elite group to play league and union Tests for Australia, missed the conversion, but with just minutes left the Wallabies held a 35-34 lead.
It was not to be, however, for the home side with the All Blacks mounting a final determined raid. Former captain Taine Randell, who had one of his best games as an All Black, showed great basketball skills to draw two men while hurling an overhead pass to the unmarked Lomu, who brushed past a desperate Stephen Larkham to tip-toe down the line and score the winning try.
New Zealand: Tries: Tana Umaga, Pita Alatini, Christian Cullen, Justin Marshall, Jonah Lomu; Conversions: Mehrtens (4); Penalty goals: Mehrtens 2
Australia: Tries: Stirling Mortlock (2), Chris Latham, Joe Roff, Jeremy Paul; Conversions: Mortlock (2); Penalty goals: Mortlock (2)
Australia - Chris Latham; Stirling Mortlock (Andrew Walker 76), Daniel Herbert (Little 70), Jason Little (Rod Kafer 53), Joe Roff; Stephen Larkham, George Gregan; Jim Williams, David Wilson (Toutai Kefu 45), Mark Connors, John Eales (capt), David Giffin, Fletcher Dyson, Michael Foley (Jeremy Paul 40), Richard Harry (Glenn Panoho 57). Replacements not used: Sam Cordingley.
New Zealand - Christian Cullen; Tana Umaga, Alama Ieremia, Pita Alatini, Jonah Lomu; Andrew Mehrtens (Tony Brown 65), Justin Marshall; Ron Cribb, Scott Robertson (Josh Kronfeld 43), Taine Randell, Norm Maxwell (Troy Flavell 50), Todd Blackadder (capt), Kees Meeuws, Anton Oliver (Mark Hammett 73), Carl Hoeft. Replacements not used: Leon MacDonald, Craig Dowd
Referee: Andre Watson (Rsa)