Australia sink New Zealand to secure Rugby Championship

Michael Cheika’s side make big statement in Sydney ahead of the Rugby World Cup

Australia beat New Zealand 27-19 to win the Rugby Championship. Photograph: AFP

Australia beat New Zealand 27-19 to win the Rugby Championship. Photograph: AFP

 

AUSTRALIA 27 NEW ZEALAND 19

On a chilly night at ANZ Stadium, Australia sealed the Rugby Championship title – and the first Bledisloe Cup Test match of 2015 – with a hard-fought, see-sawing 27-19 victory over the All Blacks.

After a largely scrappy first-half punctuated by handling errors, poor passing and rushed options in the face of rushing defence, both teams ran the ball with alacrity in the second stanza to energise the bumper crowd of 73,824.

The game turned in the 66th minute when Wallabies’ half Nick Phipps - who had a particularly poor game - was yellow-carded and did not return. His replacement, Nic White, landed a booming penalty goal from halfway, then scored the match-winning try and converted it.

The All Blacks opened the scoring after seven minutes when sustained pressure saw Dan Carter land a penalty goal from in front. The Wallabies would have been happy to concede the three-points instead of the try that looked likely, but paid a price as tight-head prop Sekope Kepu was yellow-carded.

Uncharacteristically, New Zealand failed to add to their tally in his absence. In the 16th minute, Bernard Foley’s clearing kick was charged down, Carter toed through and there followed a mad scramble for the ball in the in-goal. Matt Giteau finally planted a hand on the ball under pressure.

Richie McCaw, playing a record-equalling 141st Test, was strong at the breakdown but the Wallabies “experiment” of playing two open-side flankers in Michael Hooper and David Pocock paid off. Both were contenders for man-of-the-match (Hooper nabbed it) with strong running, staunch defence and typically efficient work over the ball.

Israel Folau made some nice flying marks under the high ball, and was tested several times by Carter’s towering midfield bombs. It was a recurring theme - high balls and pressure, and belt the ball carrier. In the first 20 minutes, Australia barely had the ball in All Blacks’ territory.

The visitors ran with purpose and tested the Wallabies on the fringes and down the middle. Yet their hands were poor. Against the run of play, Pocock stormed up the field and the Wallabies won a scrum under the posts.

When the scrum screwed - and Kieran Read emerged shoving Phipps in the chest - the Wallabies were handed a penalty, which Giteau duly nailed.

Carter landed a fine penalty goal from 43 metres and, with ten minutes until half-time, the All Blacks led 6-3. The Wallabies continued to press and, after a storming run by Folau down the right, Phipps threw another poor pass from the base of the ruck that skidded off the turf and thudded off lock Dean Mumm’s fingers. Michael Cheika’s exasperated expression said it all.

After a strong dash by hooker Dane Coles, the All Blacks almost scored in the corner through Julian Savea, but the powerhouse wing man was belted into touch by a pile-driving tackle from Hooper to end the half.

Carter’s ordinary game continued when his kick-off to start the second-half failed to travel ten metres. The Wallabies were awarded a penalty from the resultant scrum and another one when Aaron Smith caught Adam Ashley-Cooper high around the head. Ashley-Cooper was dazed and prone, but stayed on. Smith did not, trotting off with a yellow card.

And then a moment to make bookmakers gleeful as 50-1 shot for first try-scorer Kepu ran through the most unlikely of culprits – Read, one of the game’s most efficient and damaging tacklers – to score. Giteau converted and the Wallabies were up 10-6.

But the All Blacks hit straight back when another of Phipps’ passes missed its target and Carter kicked a penalty goal. Then referee Wayne Barnes did what Chieka would not, sending Phipps to the sidelines for a professional foul.

Soon enough, the All Blacks made their advantage pay. Impressive debutant wing man Nehe Milner-Skudder capitalised on some straight running and support play to score in the corner. Carter failed to convert from out wide to leave the All Blacks with their noses in front at 14-10.

Then, brilliance. Replacement flyhalf Matt Toomua drifted across, saw the defence moving up and slotted through a perfect grubber for Ashley-Cooper, who got the bounce and dived through Ben Smith’s cover tackle.

After a pregnant pause, TMO Shaun Veldsman confirmed the five-pointer. When Giteau converted from the paint, the crowd was up and welts of yellow flame shot skywards. With fifteen minutes left Milner-Skudder had a double. Beauden Barrett, with his first touch, popped a beautiful pass that saw the winger take several defenders over with him.

After another long look, Veldsman gave it the thumbs up. Carter missed from the sideline and the All Blacks led by two. It was then that

White emerged following Phipps’ indiscretion. The halfback’s mighty penalty goal from near the halfway mark gave his team a one-point lead. And when the nippy new man scooted over from a ruck five metres out, the gold-encrusted crowd rose as one.

White converted and the Wallabies led by eight with eight minutes to go. It was plenty.

Australia 27 (Sekope Kepu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nic White tries; Matt Giteau 2 conversions, 1 penalty goal; White 1 conversion, 1 penalty goal) 

New Zealand 19 (Nehe Milner-Skudder 2 tries; Dan Carter 3 penalty goals).

Australia: Folau, Ashley-Cooper, Kuridrani, Giteau, Mitchell, Foley, Phipps, Sio, Moore, Kepu, Mumm, Horwill, Fardy, Hooper, Pocock. Replacements: Polota-Nau, Slipper, Holmes, Skelton, McCalman, White, Toomua, Beale.

New Zealand: B. Smith, Milner-Skudder, C. Smith, Williams, Savea, Carter, A. Smith, Woodcock, Coles, O. Franks, Retallick, Romano, Kaino, McCaw, Read. Replacements: Taylor, B. Franks, Laulala, Whitelock, Cane, Perenara, Barrett, Fekitoa.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)

 

(Guardian Service)

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