All Blacks off to a winning start
July 8, 2006
Isaia Toeava races in to score for the All Blacks
© Getty Images
The All Blacks made a muscular start to the defence of their Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations rugby titles here tonight, overpowering Australia up front to post an emphatic 32-12 win at Jade Stadium.
The visitors were strangled out of the game by a dominant New Zealand tight five, who marched over their opposites at scrum time and edged the battle of the breakdown. Fielding a full-strength team for the first time this year, the All Blacks were in a different class to their two patchy wins over Ireland and narrow defeat of Argentina last month.
Conversely, the Wallabies didn´t have the time and space to unleash their backline which had been so impressive in the wins over England and Ireland. The All Blacks were never headed after hooker Keven Mealamu crossed twice for tries late in the first spell, taking advantage of a yellow card shown to Wallabies No 8 Rocky Elsom for persistent offending.
Until that stage it was an even affair, with the visitors making a bright start through a sweeping try to winger Lote Tuqiri. The still, clear conditions made for a far better spectacle than most had predicted but the ground was still 1000 short of capacity at 34,500.
It was the All Blacks´ 19th consecutive home win, surpassing their previous best unbeaten run at home set from 1994 to 1998. They now need to win or draw either of the remaining Tri-Nations tests against Australia, in Brisbane and Auckland, to retain the Bledisloe Cup.
On tonight´s form they are on target to do so, producing a display that belied their fractured leadup. The forward pack found their fire of last year, with athletic lock Chris Jack in his 50th test perhaps the pick tonight. The backs were fluent, often catching their opposites short when they moved the ball wide inside their half.
The Wallabies were at their best when driving as a pack but clean breaks were rare, with fullback Chris Latham and the powerful Tuqiri most threatening. Tuqiri´s try was a spectacular effort on the quarter hour mark after All Blacks first five-eighth Daniel Carter and Wallabies centre Stirling Mortlock both missed early penalty shots at goal.
After retrieving a long drop out, Latham brilliantly burst onto his own chip kick between two New Zealand defenders and put second five-eighth Mat Rogers on a 40m run before the last pass to Tuqiri.
The All Blacks set up camp in Australian territory but couldn´t cross until the latter part of the first half while Elsom was sidelined. He had been warned for illegally slowing down New Zealand´s ball and a repeat offence in the 27th minute left South African referee Jonathan Kaplan with no choice but to brandish a yellow card.
Moments later All Blacks winger Rico Gear was bundled out in the corner but from the ensuing lineout Mealamu pounced on a misdirected Wallabies throw to flop over. Mealamu had to do a little more for his second, leaping over a ruck from 5m out after another irresistible surge from the forwards.
Up 14-7 at the break, New Zealand practically sealed victory in the 10 minutes after halftime through a Carter penalty and unusual try to flanker Richie McCaw. The captain reached over to put his hand on the ball in the back of a defensive Australian ruck, something he was entitled to do as the ball was over the tryline.
The Wallabies struck straight back when reserve loose forward Scott Fava burrowed over from a ruck to stay in touch at 24-12. Carter kicked another penalty before the Wallabies took control of territory and possession. However, the hosts had the final say and a bonus point when replacement centre Isaia Toeava dashed 80m to score from a charge down.
Before kickoff the All Blacks performed the Kapa O Pango haka, ending with its controversial throat-slitting gesture. The New Zealand Rugby Union has just completed a review of the haka which was introduced last year to ensure it had public support and in a press release tonight said that was overwhelmingly the case.