Henry backs Wallabies to beat Boks
August 23, 2009
New Zealand's Brad Thorn celebrates his side's victory over Australia in Sydney © Getty Images
All Blacks coach Graham Henry has backed the Wallabies to upset the Springboks next weekend and boost his own side's Tri-Nations hopes.
New Zealand are set to become their Tasman rivals' biggest supporters over the next couple of weeks as they play host to the Tri-Nations pacesetters in two games that will go a long way to deciding the destiny of this year's southern hemisphere crown.
Henry's battered troops returned home today with the Bledisloe Cup, which they defended for a sixth successive year with a pulsating 19-18 win over the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium here last night.
The result also kept alive their slim hopes of making it five consecutive Tri-Nations titles, although they require the Wallabies to upset the Springboks in Perth on Saturday and Brisbane the following weekend, before they host the South Africans in Hamilton on September 12.
"We need the Aussies to get up in the next two tests and I think they're good enough to do the job. They need the rub of the green and hopefully they can do that and that gives us a sniff," Henry said.
The downside was injuries to midfielders Luke McAlister (fractured cheekbone) and Conrad Smith (hamstring), who appear likely to miss the rest of the Tri-Nations. A muscular performance by the forwards, composure in the final quarter and Carter's 78th-minute penalty sealed a tense victory before an 80,228-strong crowd.
With Ma'a Nonu scoring the only try of the test in the 64th minute, the victory wasn't totally convincing, but any win would do for the All Blacks after their two error-ridden defeats in South Africa. It was the third time they had avoided the dreaded three-match losing streak under Henry, after 2004 and 2008, and gave them five consecutive wins over Robbie Deans' Wallabies.
Henry hailed his side's commitment as they recovered from a string of first-half ruck penalties and a 6-15 deficit with 30 minutes remaining. The abiding theme was pride in the All Blacks jersey after Henry's blast during their pre-test Auckland camp which questioned their commitment.
"A few of us had a look at what the jersey meant to us and Ted (Henry) rarked us up a bit to have a look at ourselves and realise it is a bloody good privilege to play for the All Blacks, and get out there and wear the jersey with pride and fill it properly," hooker Andrew Hore said.
The platform was laid by a powerful scrum and a more functional lineout, where impressive No.8 Kieran Read provided a steady supply of ball at the front. In a first half dominated by referee Jonathan Kaplan's whistle, the All Blacks struck a blow when Wallabies prop Al Baxter was dragged off by Deans in the 31st minute after a torrid time against Tony Woodcock.
"It's all about winning the hit, and the ref was checking up on things. The Aussies subbed Al off and it's always pretty heartening to see them sub a prop off early," added Hore.
Carter found a balance between kicking and spinning the ball wide, although the timing was still off in the backs and movements broke down. Winger Sitiveni Sivivatu -- who along with Joe Rokocoko and Mils Muliaina handled the Wallabies' high kicks expertly -- was a constant menace on attack.
He set up the decisive try when benchman Nonu handled twice and Sivivatu flipped a no-look pass on the outside. Carter's sideline conversion, then his late penalty when Lachie Turner was penalised for not releasing in Isaac Ross' tackle, reclaimed the lead after Wallabies pivot Matt Giteau kicked a perfect six penalties from six attempts.
The All Blacks defended desperately in the final minute as the Wallabies attacked, but Ben Alexander's dropped ball signalled wild celebrations.
"I'm just very proud of the character shown by the players. The win's the result of a lot of mental toughness," Henry said. "We didn't really get the roll of the dice and we kept on coming back and fronting up."
Ma'a Nonu relished his 50th minute arrival after McAlister's second head clash of the night. Nonu handled twice in his 64th minute try which was set up by a brilliant no-look pass by in-form winger Sitiveni Sivivatu.
"Siti's a world class player, you see when he plays for the Chiefs he's unstoppable really. I was hoping he was going to read me on the outside and he did. He told me after he knew I was coming around. I was just thinking `don't drop it, eh'."
Nonu said despite the victory, the All Blacks still had plenty to work on. He enjoyed their willingness to spread the ball wide and hoped they could continue to entertain against the kick-focused Springboks in Hamilton.
"We pride ourselves in playing the best rugby we can. We were guilty of not producing the best rugby, especially this year. There's room for improvement and hopefully we can move up a gear in the next two tests.
"We just had to play some rugby and we got that try in the end. If we use the ball more, running-wise, we can score a lot more tries."