All Blacks retain Bledisloe Cup in thriller
August 22, 2009
Matt Giteau attacks the New Zealand defence in Sydney
© Getty Images
New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup with a thrilling 19-18 comeback win over Australia at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Dan Carter, making his international return, slotted the winning points with a penalty in the dying seconds after replacement centre Ma'a Nonu had struck with a stunning second-half try. In a game of frantic running rugby the visitors clawed back a 12-3 half-time deficit, Matt Giteau scoring all of the hosts' points from the kicking tee.
The Wallabies welcomed flanker Rocky Elsom back in to their ranks after his northern hemisphere sabbatical, but the newly-anointed Brumbies blindside was unable to stop the All Blacks from seizing control of the second-half to revive their flagging Tri-Nations campaign.
With both sides having suffered defeats to the ruthlessly efficient Springboks in recent weeks, their willingness to run the ball provided a breathtaking spectacle for a packed house. No.8 Kieran Read rescued the recently maligned All Black lineout with a steadying jumping display at the front, while the physicality from both sides at the breakdown was vastly improved in a see-saw contest.
Both Elsom and Carter were immediately thrust in to the action, Elsom hammering in to All Black skipper Richie McCaw from the kick-off and Carter handing the All Blacks the lead with a sweetly struck penalty. Giteau responded with a penalty and gave the hosts the lead with his second following some enterprising play from James O'Connor.
The Wallaby kicking axis of Giteau and centre Berrick Barnes looked composed under pressure as their forwards continued to compete well on the floor while Carter's early influence provided a rusty-looking backline move. His forward pass was rescued by some powerful play by the pack at the ensuing scrum but after turning over possession at the set-piece, some poor communication between centre Conrad Smith and Joe Rokocoko swathe ball lost.
The physicality of the game progressed undimmed throughout the first-half, with Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore and his front-row partner Benn Robinson both leaving the field streaming with blood after a fearsome passage of tackling by their pack, who were sparked in to action by darting runs from Carter and the ever-elusive Smith.
After their early inaccuracy the All Black backs burst in to life with a well-worked break, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Mils Muliaina, Smith and Luke McAlister all swapping passes in close-quarters before McAlister's well-judged chip in behind was marshalled to safety in-goal by Giteau.
The scrum proved to be a problem for the Wallabies once again, with two promising positions wasted as referee Jonathan Kaplan took issue with their front-row. Tight-head Al Baxter paid for these penalties with his place in the side, being ignominiously hauled from the field by Robbie Deans after only 31 minutes of play.
With Baxter cursing his way to the touchline, the Wallabies sprung in to action to extend their lead. Rokocoko was penalised for sealing off the breakdown, with Smith, Elsom and Richard Brown swarming all over the All Blacks in their own territory. Giteau made no mistake with the kick, and added another before the break as lock Nathan Sharpe was halted agonisingly short of the line by Jimmy Cowan.
Sharpe had been set on his way by a fine break from Barnes, who scythed in between static All Black forwards Isaac Ross and Tony Woodcock before offloading to the Western Force second-row. Sharpe would have been under the posts if not for a textbook tackle by Cowan, who in the aftermath failed to roll away and interfered with the ball from an offside position. Giteau landed his fourth kick in stoppage time, and Cowan was extremely lucky not to see yellow as the Wallabies continued to find joy at the breakdown.
The whistle sounded for the second-half with the impressive Barnes on the bench, concussion ending his involvement. The Wallabies were down to 14 only minutes in to the half, Brown seeing yellow for the second Test in a row after hoisting Owen Franks into the air with a dangerous tackle. Carter uncharacteristically missed the kick, but added his second penalty after Sivivatu punished a loose Australian clearance with a rasping break.
Giteau slotted his fifth kick after some fine work in the tackle by his outside backs and the physical nature of the game continued to cause casualties for both sides. Conrad Smith, Luke McAlister and James O'Connor all departed before the second-half was 10 minutes old.
Carter's return then nearly entered the realms of fantasy as he darted in to score in the corner, only for Kaplan to call Sivivatu's scoring pass as forward. The home fans jeered the All Black talisman as he trotted away; their side having manfully defended six phases of All Black pick and drive.
The weaknesses of the Wallaby scrum were exploited to turn possession immediately - Cowan diving over the try-line after a quick-tap. Kaplan duly raised his arm, but to signal a penalty to the Wallabies. Jerome Kaino was pinged for obstructing Sharpe in a decision that enraged All Black fans.
The All Blacks dominated second-half possession as the Wallabies' kicking game self-destructed, but the home side nearly pounced for the game's opening try as Hynes snaffled a loose ball and broke clear down the line - his grubber rolling in to touch with Adam Ashley-Cooper unmarked on the inside.
The mistake was compounded when Nonu powered in to round off a fabulous All Black attack. With frustration building Nonu accepted an offload from McCaw and crabbed across field before setting Read and Sivivatu on their way along the touchline. The flying winger eventually found a perfect offload out of the back of his hand to send Nonu clear.
Carter converted for a one-point lead, but Giteau struck back immediately after Rodney So'oialo was pinged for going off his feet. The Wallabies poured forward in search of the killer blow but were repelled by some committed defence. They were finally undone by Carter's last act despite a brave final surge for the line, ensuring that the Bledisloe Cup would be going nowhere in 2009.
Australia: James O'Connor (Western Force), Lachie Turner (NSW Waratahs), Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies), Berrick Barnes (Queensland Reds), Drew Mitchell (Western Force), Matt Giteau (Western Force), Luke Burgess (NSW Waratahs), Richard Brown (Western Force), George Smith (Brumbies, captain), Rocky Elsom (Brumbies), Nathan Sharpe (Western Force), James Horwill (Queensland Reds), Al Baxter (NSW Waratahs), Stephen Moore (Brumbies), Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau (NSW Waratahs), Ben Alexander (Brumbies), Dean Mumm (NSW Waratahs), David Pocock (Western Force), Will Genia (Queensland Reds), Ryan Cross (Western Force), Peter Hynes (Queensland Reds)
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina (Chiefs), Joe Rokocoko (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Luke McAlister (Blues), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Chiefs), Daniel Carter (Crusaders), Jimmy Cowan (Crusaders), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Richie McCaw (Crusaders, captain), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Isaac Ross (Canterbury), Brad Thorn (Canterbury), Owen Franks (Canterbury), Andrew Hore (Hurricanes), Tony Woodcock (Blues).
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche (Chiefs), John Afoa (Blues), Jason Eaton (Hurricanes), Rodney So'oialo (Hurricanes), Brendon Leonard (Chiefs), Stephen Donald (Waikato), Ma'a Nonu (Hurricanes).
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
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