All Blacks claim close-run Bledisloe victory
July 13, 2003
George Gregan trudges from the field after Australia's defeat
© Getty Images
New Zealand took first blood in the Tri-Nations and the annual Bledisloe Cup with a 12-6 win over their fiercest rivals at Christchurch; victory was sweet but not pretty - dreadful conditions at Jade Stadium dominated the game and for the first time in 11 years a test match between these two failed to produce a try. But ironically the six point winning margin was the biggest for five matches.
Driving rain and the cold were the key factors which led to a tight scrap dominated by too many handling errors, as well as a fragile display of line-out throwing by Mark Hammett which gifted much first-half possession to the Wallabies.
The first half action was limited to two penalties apiece, one of which Matt Burke missed from in front. The miss into the breeze came early, and was followed by two successful strikes by Andrew Mehrtens before Burke landed his second effort.
Neither side created many opportunities, and the best of them, a drive from the back of a ruck from five yards by All Blacks' half back Justin Marshall, was foiled by his own player Greg Somerville trying to help him over but coming in from off-side.
At that stage the game was evenly balanced, with the ball spending most of its time in the air as each set of backs kicked to force handling errors; the Wallabies though looked more in control through a dominant performance at full-back from Latham.
But after the break, despite playing into the wind, the All Blacks began to dominate possession, and Mehrtens extended the lead with another two penalties to Burke's one.
Then, with not much more than ten minutes to go and the statisticians checking on the last time a Tasman Sea clash finished try-less (it was 1991), a terrific raking kick by Aaron Mauger forced Latham to concede the All Blacks a line-out five metres out; but after Doug Howlett had dummied to throw quickly, Hammett and skipper Reuben Thorne took so long planning the attack that referee Jonathan Caplan lost patience and awarded a free kick to the Wallabies for taking too long.
It looked as if such profligacy would cost the All Blacks when Burke lined up another penalty only for the damp air to slow the ball which dropped short of the bar.
Then with only eight minutes to go a Wallaby break was stopped illegally near the line: Mark Robinson deservedly got a yellow card, and the men in green and gold choose to kick for touch but failed to convert the opportunity. Having conceded only six penalties in nearly 70 minutes, the home side were now under real pressure, and moments later offended again, but again survived when Australia spurned the kick in favour of a tap penalty which the All Blacks also resisted.
With the man advantage, Australia spent the rest of the game deep in All Black territory, and with seconds to go, got another chance for a short line-out, but the All Blacks clung on for victory.