Greg Growden in Tokyo
November 1, 2009
New Zealand 32 Australia 19
THE trans-Tasman blackout continued when the Wallabies lost their seventh Test in a row to the All Blacks, but at least the perennial losers showed a dramatic improvement last night.
Once again, the All Blacks were far too conclusive, playing near error-free football to finish 4-0 Bledisloe Cup victors. The Wallabies again made far too many mistakes at the breakdown, especially in the All Blacks' quarter, to properly threaten. Nonetheless, the passion and pride of the Wallabies was far greater than in Wellington, and they led at half-time and threatened the All Blacks right until the final bell.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was frustrated by how Australia struggled at the lineout. But he was even more unimpressed with the refereeing performance of South African referee Mark Lawrence, believing it affected the spectacle of the game. He was inferring that more All Blacks should have been sent to the sin bin for indiscretions, including at the breakdown.
''Can someone tell me what the penalty count was? I'd be surprised if it wasn't well and truly in the favour of the Wallabies, I know the first six penalties - four of them were in the red zone - and there probably should have been a couple of others where the ball was lifted out of the rucks one metre short of the line,'' Deans said.
''That was frustrating from our perspective, particularly when you are playing a fixture in Tokyo where you are trying to promote the game.''
The Wallabies were also not helped by their dire run with injuries continuing just before kick-off, when the team had to rejig their starting line-up after hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau woke up with a sore Achilles heel. Although Polota-Nau warmed up with the team, Stephen Moore had to start. Polota-Nau instead went to the reserves bench, and did not come on to the field until the 48th minute.
Polota-Nau became the fourth Wallaby to be hit with an ailment, following on from Stirling Mortlock, Berrick Barnes and Rob Horne, who all were injured well before last night's first match of the tour.
Thankfully, despite yet another hiccup to their preparation, the Wallabies soon found their rhythm, and in a vast improvement on numerous other Tri Nations games this year, repeatedly penetrated the All Blacks in midfield during the first half. Halfback Will Genia provided excellent service as well as being prepared to take a snipe, on one occasion scooting 40 metres down field, while wingers Digby Ioane and Peter Hynes were constantly looking for work.
Genia and Hynes combined perfectly for Australia's first try against the All Blacks in 271 minutes when the Wallabies took advantage of their opponents being down a player just before the break after winger Sitiveni Sivivatu was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle on Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Noticing that Hynes had an enormous amount of space on Sivivatu's side of the field, Genia threw a marvellous floating pass, giving the Queensland winger time to hit it at full pace, and although confronted by countless defenders he somehow dived through to ground the ball just inside the corner post. The video referee finally awarded the try, and at last the Wallabies had something to show for their toil.
This gave them a 16-13 lead at half-time, but the gap could have been considerably larger if the Wallabies had taken several other important chances when they found themselves deep in the All Blacks' quarter. However, the Wallabies' age-old problem of losing their formation at the breakdown and repeatedly handing the ball to the opposition thwarted at least three dangerous first-half attacking opportunities.
At least it was more encouraging that the Wallabies' back row was far more pugnacious than in recent trans-Tasman matches, with Wycliff Palu and David Pocock combining well to provide just as many good scavenging skills as All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw. Still, it wasn't perfect, because far too often the Wallabies would take the ball into the breakdown, and the All Blacks would run away it.
Also of concern was that when the All Blacks found themselves in a promising attacking spot, they made much of it. The lead-up to Sivivatu's try in the 21st minute was outstanding, with the All Blacks succeeding in sucking in numerous Wallabies defenders into the middle of the field with well thought-out attacking runs, until the All Blacks winger had no one in front of him. Several great passes and Sivivatu was away for the first try of the match.
The All Blacks regained the lead in the 45th minute when several short passes somehow broke up the Wallabies defensive formation and enabled centre Conrad Smith to squeeze through. In the next 10 minutes, the All Blacks came close to scoring twice, but were thwarted by an outstanding Pocock tackle, then back-rower Adam Thomson fumbled possession just centimetres from the Wallabies' line. By then, Australia were scrambling, as Daniel Carter kicked a succession of penalty goals for the All Blacks.
NEW ZEALAND 32 (Sitiveni Sivivatu, Conrad Smith tries Daniel Carter 2 cons 6 pens)
AUSTRALIA 19 (Peter Hynes try Matt Giteau con 4 pens) at Olympic Stadium.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (RSA).