Burke's last kick lands spoils for Wallabies
RUGBY: Australia's dramatic win with the last kick of the game in Sydney on Saturday not only prevented the Bledisloe Cup crossing the Tasman Sea for the first time since 1997, it also threw the Tri-Nations competition wide open.
The All Blacks have grown used to such painful moments, with similar scenes occurring in 2000 when the Wallaby captain John Eales kicked a penalty for a last-minute 24-23 victory in Wellington and then last year in Sydney Toutai Kefu scored with only seconds to go to defeat New Zealand 29-26.
In between, the Wallabies inflicted the same pain on South Africa in Durban two years ago when Stirling Mortlock was accurate with a 80th-minute penalty to give Australia a 19-18 victory, and a first Tri-Nations series triumph.
This time it was the Australian centre Matthew Burke who twisted the knife. With just 13 seconds to go, the referee Andre Watson ruled that the All Black replacement Leon McDonald had his hands in the ruck, giving the Wallabies the penalty from 22 metres out.
Adding to the drama was that just a few minutes earlier, Burke, with a fluctuating wind hitting him straight in the face, while attempting a conversion of Mat Rogers' late try had hit the left upright from virtually the same spot.
As Burke lined up the kick, he said to himself: "Knock it over, you're a hero. Miss it, you're a villain." An anxious backs' coach Glen Ella could not look, and turned away. Forwards' coach Ewen McKenzie was "speechless" while the head coach Eddie Jones prayed.
After the kick went through the posts, All Black despair turned to anger, with the outhalf Andrew Mehrtens criticising Watson. Mehrtens said that Watson should have been "ashamed" with himself because of several questionable decisions.
"I am not sure whether Australia deserved to win," Mehrtens said. "It was probably more a case of us losing the game, but we were not helped by some of Watson's decisions.
"He should be ashamed - more ashamed than some of us should be. He lacked control of the tackled ball and the ruck situations and the offside line."
All Blacks assistant coach Robbie Deans admitted his side had paid the price for being one-dimensional, and hinted that powerhouse winger Jonah Lomu would be back for next Saturday's Tri-Nations match against South Africa in Durban.
"We lacked venom near the Wallaby line when we were on top in the second half," he said. "Possibly we were a little bit one-dimensional.
"The swirling wind was a factor and possibly inhibited the players in their confidence. We struggled to capitalise on good possession, particularly from turnovers."
The series will now be determined by how New Zealand and Australia fare in South Africa over the next fortnight. The Springboks can even win the title, but will have to go on a try-scoring spree while stopping both New Zealand in Durban on Saturday and Australia in Johannesburg the following weekend from earning a bonus point.
Jones said Rogers may make the starting line-up on Saturday week. "He's definitely knocking on the door," said Australia's coach. "We're really happy with his progress and certainly he's going to be pushing for a place."
Scorers: Australia: Sharpe, Rogers try each; Burke two penalties; New Zealand: McCaw try, Mehrtens three penalties.
AUSTRALIA: Latham (Rogers, 62); Tune, Burke, Herbert, Mortlock; Larkham, Gregan (capt); Young, Paul, Noriega (Darwin, 63), Harrison, Sharpe (Cockbain, 63), Finegan (Lyons, 59), Smith, Kefu.
NEW ZEALAND: Cullen; Howlett, Umaga, Mauger, Ralph; Mehrtens (MacDonald, 78), Marshall; Hewett, Willis, Somerville (McDonnell, 74), Jack, Maling, Thorne (capt), McCaw, Robertson.
Referee: A Watson (South Africa).