Sunday, July 22, 2007

All Blacks win Tri-Nations, Bledisloe.

The All Blacks won the Tri-Nations decider and retained the Bledisloe Cup, downing the Wallabies 26-12 at Eden Park yesterday. A heavy downpour prior to kick-off and a drizzle through most of the first half meant a heavy track with surface water. Rather than play a wide lateral game, the All Blacks stuck to a simple and smart game plan, kept it tight, and eventually strangled the Wallabies to death.

The game's first half was a nail-biter, with Australia holding a 9-6 advantage late before Dan Carter slotted a pair of penalties, the last after a silly mistake by Wallaby fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper near the stroke of halftime.

At that point Kiwis fans had every right to be worried, leading by three points on Ashley-Cooper's gift, and having only scratched out a meagre 38% ball possession.

Whatever coach Graham Henry screamed at his players at halftime, he should bottle and take to the World Cup, because a different side ran onto the paddock for the second half, and that's where we saw the strangulation. Truthfully, the Wallabies never looked remotely close to scoring a try.

Dan Carter brought his kicking boots and was stroking them from all over the pitch, accumulating 21 of his teams' points via seven penalties. Only one try was scored in the game, by prop Tony Woodcock after a sustained series of goal-line scrums set up by the Moment of the Match - New Zealand replacement halfback Brendan Leonard snaffling a cheeky intercept off the back of a crumbling Wallaby scrum and right under the nose of the legendary Wallaby scrumhalf.

Wallaby heroes George Gregan and Stephen Larkham played their last test matches in New Zealand, although neither had much impact on the game. Captain Stirling Mortlock, on the other hand, was a handful, but again, none of his breaks and hard yards amounted to much.

Former RWC-winning All Blacks Sean Fitzpatrick and Grant Fox weigh in with their verdicts.

The All Blacks regularly get slagged by press, fans and other sides as "chokers," but the Tri-Nations title is New Zealand's eighth - double the number of championships their rivals the Wallabies and Springboks have won combined.

After the match New Zealand selectors announced their World Cup squad:

All Blacks World Cup Squad

Backs: Mils Muliaina, Leon MacDonald, Doug Howlett, Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Isaia Toeava, Conrad Smith, Luke McAlister, Aaron Mauger, Daniel Carter, Nick Evans, Byron Kelleher, Brendon Leonard, Andrew Ellis.

Forwards: Rodney So'oialo, Chris Masoe, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerry Collins, Sione Lauaki, Reuben Thorne, Ali Williams, Chris Jack, Keith Robinson, Carl Hayman, Neemia Tialata, Tony Woodcock, Anton Oliver, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore.


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