Australia 14-19 New Zealand
Henry praise for battling All Blacks
November 1, 2008
A near to capacity crowd watched the final Bledisloe Cup clash of the year in the impressive surroundings of the Hong Kong Stadium © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry hailed a gutsy second-half fightback as his side came from behind to edge out Australia 19-14 in the first Bledisloe Cup match played on neutral territory.
The All Blacks were pinned back for the majority of the opening 40 minutes at Hong Kong Stadium and two tries from Wallabies winger Drew Mitchell saw them trail by five points at the interval. The accurate boot of Dan Carter had kept them in touch, though, and they eventually ran out 19-14 winners as winger Sitiveni Sivivatu and skipper Richie McCaw both touched down in the second period to seal a 3-1 series victory for New Zealand.
And Henry underlined his satisfaction at seeing his side grind out a result. "The guys won ugly," he said. "They got better as the game went on. They played much better in the second-half than the first but it was a typical All Black/Wallaby Test match - hard as hell - and our guys showed enough guts to get through it and win."
Henry also revealed instilling a change of tactics into the players at half-time was largely behind a second-half display in which Australia failed to add to their total. "It was just a matter of trying to get better tactically," he added. "We put a bit of ball behind them in the second-half which I think was helpful. I think the guys took a while to get the pace of the game and their second wind in those conditions.
"They played better, more passion and more urgency in the second half and also I think the ball behind gave us a bit of go forward as well so I was pleased with the improvement."
Captain McCaw conceded New Zealand need to start competing from the first whistle but was full of praise for how the players managed to turn the game around. "I guess the big thing is that the last two Test matches especially we've started points down," he said. "We wanted to start well but didn't start as well as we'd have liked so that's definitely something we're going to be working on.
"We talked about it this week but it took a while to get into the game. We knew where we wanted to attack but it was just a matter of setting it up to do that. The dominance up front we took a while to get into that, didn't quite get the edge there that we were after until the second half.
"They're the things that we'll try to rectify but a lot of courage from the outset from the guys, when you're under the pump to still believe in what you're doing and turn things around because it was a pretty good team we were up against."
Australia coach Robbie Deans, meanwhile, saw his side let slip another lead against the old enemy following their narrow defeat in Brisbane in the last Test between the two nations that saw the Tri-Nations and the Bledisloe Cup head to New Zealand. However, the former All Black nevertheless felt his side gave an excellent account of themselves and could feel aggrieved not to have come out on top in Hong Kong.
"I believe we made progress tonight. We were possibly more deserving tonight but still not good enough and clearly we just have to keep going and get to the point that we're so deserving, we just have to keep going," he said.
Skipper Stirling Mortlock, on the other hand, felt conceding crucial penalties proved to be their undoing. "Discipline, from our perspective, let us down a number of times," he said. "We gave them possession and territory through penalties. It hurts.
"The majority of the guys were on their feet and tying very well but we still let it slip a few times and when we did, the All Blacks pounced on it."
Flanker George Smith agreed with Mortlock's assessment. "We weren't disciplined in the breakdown but we will adapt to these rules. I felt we were a bit hard done by on a couple of occasions," he concluded.
First choice New Zealand hooker Andrew Hore is in severe doubt for the Grand Slam leg of the All Blacks end of year tour after sustaining an ankle injury early in the game.
Hore limped off four minutes after kick off against Australia and was to undergo x-rays before a decision was made on his ability to continue on to Scotland early tomorrow.
Henry was pessimistic, believing a replacement may be needed for the five-match schedule in the UK and Ireland. Hawke's Bay's Hikawera Elliot appears the logical replacement should Hore be ruled out. Keven Mealamu, who replaced Hore off the bench, and Corey Flynn are the other hookers already in the tour party.
The All Blacks play Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh next Saturday and then play Ireland, Heineken Cup champions Munster, Wales and England.
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