Wallabies Win With “Almost Scripted” Penalty
by Mathew Loh
CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS John Eales kicked a penalty in the final second to complete an astonishing world Wallaby comeback to give the world champions the Bledisloe Cup 24-23 in a fantastic test at Wellington's Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
On a day when Christian Cullen and Andrew Mehrtens earned All Black tries and points scoring records respectively the Australian's stole the major prize _ the Bledisloe Cup - in the dying minutes with two lineout wins on All Black ball, and a match-winning penalty by Eales.
Aussie halfback George Gregan said his team showed patience and absorbed pressure until the 83rd minute and it "won it for us".
"We got off to a flyer and they reeled us in and then it was a good old fashioned dog-fight" said Gregan after the game.
On his captain's last seconds heroics Gregan said: " It was almost scripted for him. He was always going to nail it and it was a great finish to a spectacular game".
Veteran Wallaby midfielder Jason Little added "He won possession and kicked the goal.... it shows what a special player he is".
After a sensational attacking first half featuring four superb tries the second half was a pressure-soaked battle of attrition with two excellent team launching themselves at each other with savage skill.
And at the end of play ( and if you were a kiwi supporter an excruciatingly long injury time) it was the reigning world champions who demonstrated the desperate desire and never-say-die attitude required to retain the Bledisloe Cup.
Eales was as usual an inspirational figure and he ably supported by outstanding performances from Gregan, under-rated No-8 Jim Williams, veteran loosie David Wilson and class centre Anthony Herbert, For the All Blacks Mehrtens was close to being a match-winner, Cullen exuded class, Josh Kronfeld and Norm Maxwell left nothing in the tank and Ron Cribb again ran very hot and very cold.
Australia blew the All Blacks away in the opening salvo has they stormed to a 12-0 lead with superlative attacking play but New Zealand erupted in the second quarter with two Cullen tries ( the second an incredible effort reminiscent of the fabulous Going brothers at their magical best) to mount an awesome comeback to end the half leading 20-18.
In addition to the two tries All Black maestro Mehrtens hit two conversions and two penalties to finish the first forty with 10 points and a record 650 total test points( he ended the game with 653 points with a magnificent second half three pointer).
"A great exhibition of Southern Hemisphere rugby - all pace and power" said former All Black lock Murray Pierce.
"It was two excellent teams smashing away at each other". Stirling Mortlock opened the scoring after three minutes dotting down after Anthony Herbert busted through weak All Black inside cover to set up his wing.
12 minutes later Wallaby captain John Eales won a Black lineout which his backs used brilliantly put Joe Roff in the corner to make it 12-0 to Australia after 15 minutes.
Wellington wing Tana Umaga inspired the opening All Black score when he used his strength to burst through and feed Christian Cullen who dotted down.
Andrew Mehrtens conversion made it 12-7 after 20 minutes.
Minutes later a sublime movement ended with a Cullen try and Mehrtens conversion to give the All Blacks a 14-12 advantage.
Mehrtens and Mortlock then each kicked a brace of penalties and the half ended with NZ leading 20-18.
Following the fluent play of the first forty the second period was all about pressure and defence with both teams stretched to the limit defending their line.
The third quarter was marked by aggressive Wallaby defence and an All Black team seemingly off the boil compared to their rampant play in the final 20 minutes of the 1st half.
Penalties by Mehrtens and Mortlock were only points of the third quarter and with the score remaining at 23-21 to NZ deep into injury time it appeared the All Blacks were going to hold on to secure a famous victory.
However in a dramatic finish which saw Umaga almost score a match winning try and NZ lose two of it own lineout throws it was the brave All Black lock Norm Maxwell who was caught not coming in from behind the last man's feet by touch-judge Ed Morrison and South African referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded Australia what turned out to be the crucial penalty.
With regular kicked Stirling Mortlock already subbed off up stepped world-beater and lock extraordinaire Eales and the result was an Australian victory.