Wallabies end Tri-Nations drought
The Wallabies desperately withstood an All Blacks fightback to end their a decade-long Tri-Nations title drought with a stirring 25-20 triumph on Saturday night.
IN his first Test as Wallabies skipper, James Horwill became the first Australian to hold the Tri-Nations trophy aloft since his childhood hero John Eales raised it in 2001.
In a major momentum-booster before next month’s Rugby World Cup, the Wallabies set up their victory with a stunning first-half display, arguably their best ever under Robbie Deans, to lead 20-3 at halftime.
Radike Samo, 35, scored a bewildering breakout try and all his teammates tackled like demons to have the defending champions rattled at Suncorp Stadium.
But the All Blacks scored 17 points in as many minutes at the start of the second half to tie the match and have the Wallabies wobbling.
When another Bledisloe heart-breaker looked imminent, halfback Will Genia, felled by two training collisions during the week, rose to the occasion just as he did at the same ground in the Super Rugby final victory by setting up the match-winning try to Kurtley Beale.
“The first time in 10 years, we’re obviously stoked,” Genia said.
While the All Blacks absolutely dominated the opening half of the last Bledisloe clash in Auckland, it was completely the reverse in Brisbane.
A sell-out crowd of 51,858 gave the home side a well-deserved standing ovation at half-time.
After staring down the throat-slitting Kapa o Pango haka, the Wallabies started in a frenzy, rattling the world No.1-ranked team.
Deposed skipper Rocky Elsom set the tone, making Australia’s first tackle which resulted in a ruck turnover, before playing like a man possessed.
Elsom, Anthony Faingaa and Digby Ioane all pulled off inspirational try-saving tackles in the half while Samo smashed Adam Thomson in a huge early bell-ringer.
The normally composed and clinical Kiwis were flustered and regularly pressured into spilling the ball in the greasy conditions.
In contrast, the Wallabies’ handling was superb after a full day of Brisbane drizzle.
Quade Cooper produced a miracle flick pass in traffic in the first five minutes and the ball continued to stick as they continually probed and tested the All Blacks defence.
It took 14 minutes for the first try with halfback Will Genia selling a dummy near the line to scoot over just after Adam Ashley-Cooper was denied an almost certain five-pointer when Mils Muliaina stole the ball on the line.
Samo’s 60m solo try, sparked by a vicious fend on Thomson before beating Muliaina and blazing winger Cory Jane to the line.
As well as the ageless Samo, veteran lock Dan Vickerman showed the rugby senior citizens club still had plenty of vim and vigour.
The All Blacks’ cause wasn’t helped by first half injuries to back-rowers Kieran Read (ankle) and Thomson (arm) which forced lock Ali Williams into the back-row.
But Williams stood tall in the second-half fightback, highlighted by a 27-phase try finished by Conrad Smith when he burst on to a one-arm Carter off-load.
Soon after Smith’s centre partner Ma’a Nonu blitzed some poor defence for the scores to be deadlocked at 20-all with 20 to go.
But just a minute later Genia combined with Ioane to put Beale over, and the Wallabies were good enough to close it out.