CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, Reuters
New Zealand took a step towards regaining the Bledisloe Cup when they beat Australia 12-6 in a scrappy Tri-nations match on Saturday.
In the first encounter between the teams without a try since 1991 flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens kicked four penalties to the Wallabies’s two from Matthew Burke.
A cold wind and steady drizzle hampered attempts at running rugby, as both sides opted for old-fashioned 10-man rugby with flyhalves Mehrtens and Stephen Larkham trading kicks.
Australia won both tests between the sides in last season’s Tri-nations, and All Blacks captain Reuben Thorne said the win was more important than the performance.
“It was a very satisfying win,” he said. “It was a real test match out there. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win built on the character shown by the guys.”
Australia spent the final 10 minutes trying to break down the All Blacks defense but could find no way through, despite New Zealand being reduced to 14 men after outside center Mark Robinson was sin-binned for a tackle on Jeremy Paul.
“We had our chances in the last few minutes, but we didn’t execute them well and made far too many errors,” said Wallabies skipper George Gregan. Disappointing “Both teams had to play in the conditions and they played better and kept us out. It’s disappointing, but as I said, we had our chances.”
Mehrtens kicked penalties in the fourth and 33rd minutes with Burke cutting the deficit to three points when he kicked a penalty just before the break for his 150th point against New Zealand.
He had earlier missed a relatively easy kick from 35 meters right in front of the posts.
The All Blacks extended their lead to 9-3 with another Mehrtens penalty in the 49th minute before Burke made it 9-6 five minutes later.
After Mehrtens restored the six-point margin although Burke missed another penalty, albeit a difficult one from long range.
With memories of the two last-gasp Australia victories still fresh in their minds, John Eales kicked a late penalty for a 24-23 victory in Wellington in 2000 and last year in Sydney Toutai Kefu dived over to give the Wallabies a 29-26 win, the Christchurch crowd of 36,500 held their breath.
Australia were more adventurous in their backline play, but they were hampered by poor handling, while New Zealand tackled like demons as the minutes ticked away.
The All Blacks’s best chance of a try came in the 73rd minute when they had a three-man overlap, but Mark Hammett threw a poor pass that fell behind Aaron Mauger.
“It was pretty tough (after Robinson was sin-binned), but the boys came through for him,” said a relieved All Blacks assistant coach Robbie Deans.