Monday, November 03, 2008

Aussie view: All Blacks escape with controversial late try

SMH, Sunday, 02 November 2008

New Zealand 19, Australia 14
For the second Bledisloe Cup Test in a row, the Wallabies were unable to defend a lead and suffered the pain of an exasperating tight loss to the All Blacks in last night's Test at Hong Kong Stadium.

Adding to the agony was that the final All Blacks try by skipper Richie McCaw, which broke a 14-all deadlock, appeared to involve a blatant forward pass. This was a very demoralising loss for the Wallabies. For the first half they played with aplomb and style, but fell away in the second half to allow the All Blacks to sneak away and finish the Cup series 3-1 victors.

As in Brisbane, the Wallabies could not kill the All Blacks when they were starting to struggle. At Suncorp Stadium in September, Australia led 17-7, but lost 28-24. Then last night after 25 minutes, the Wallabies were ahead 14-6, but then once again allowed the ever-dangerous New Zealanders too much leeway after the break, permitting them to score the two tries necessary for victory.

"It was like Brisbane. Deja vu," McCaw said with delight.

But the Wallabies have every right to feel infuriated, because the refereeing performance of Irishman Alan Lewis was dreadful. Lewis missed forward passes, the most crucial in the 63rd minute when McCaw scored, and penalised Australia out of the game. Not surprisingly, he was booed regularly during the game.

With the light showers and body-sapping high humidity, both teams struggled to keep their footing early on. For a time it appeared that Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock was wearing thongs, as he was slipping and sliding virtually every time he received the ball. Mortlock may have been floundering, but it didn't diminish his effort, as he continued attempting to belt holes through the middle of the field, trying to hustle and bustle his way through the All Black centres, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith.

It didn't always work, but when it did, the Wallabies suddenly looked threatening, and impressive. And because of that forward momentum, Australia had the advantage of repeatedly being in the All Blacks' quarter, enabling them through two Drew Mitchell tries to take a 14-6 lead after 25 minutes.

Each Mitchell try revolved around fast ball-in-hand play, plus clever and intuitive passing.
After the Test began with an exchange of high kicks, the Wallabies decided to be the first to be adventurous, playing to the sidelines, and then cutting back to set up the next important phase. The combinations were all working, but most crucially their much-criticised pack was keeping the more respected All Blacks scrum at bay.

Observing that the All Blacks were surprisingly sluggish early on, the Wallabies focused a lot on keeping the ball in front of them. And it worked in the sixth minute when five-eighth Matt Giteau, who was immediately on song, drew several defenders with a clever crossfield run, before offering a great pop-up pass, which was taken by a charging Mitchell, who scored near the posts.

Then fast hands resulted in Mitchell scoring again in the 25th minute, with a majestic quick flick by back-rower George Smith enabling Australia to score out wide. It was rousing stuff from the Wallabies, who although not having played for well over a month, appeared deeply confident, and were prepared to trust their instincts. They fully deserved their 14-9 lead, with the All Blacks only remaining in the game after receiving a generous leg-up from referee Lewis, who often seemed flustered.

"We were probably more deserving tonight, but we just not good enough," Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said last night.The ever-diplomatic Deans opted against commenting about the refereeing performance, saying that the penalty count didn't concern him.

But Wallabies skipper Stirling Mortlock admitted that discipline "let us down"."We gave them possession, territory and penalties. It hurts," he said.

But the All Blacks knew that they got away it.
"We won ugly, but we got better," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said."Australia played particularly well in the first half, bringing in new innovations which we hadn't seen."

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