So here it is. Afte five weeks of League action, we’re left with the two best sides remaining. New Zealand have improved since the opening game, but in that match they were dominated by Australia. The Kangaroos have been dominant through the whole thing, but Ricky Stuart has questioned the level of their preparation; apparently he thinks demolishing Papua New Guinea and Fiji might not be good enough. We’ll see. The teams:
Australia: Billy Slater, Joel Monaghan, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, David Williams, Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston, Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith, Brent Kite, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Laffranchi, Paul Gallen.
Interchange: 14. Karmichael Hunt, 15. Craig Fitzgibbon, 16. Anthony Tupou, 17. Anthony Watmough.
New Zealand: Lance Hohaia, Sam Perrett, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall, Nathan Fien, Nathan Cayless (c), Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair, David Fa’alogo, Bronson Harrison, Jeremy Smith.
Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Sam Rapira, Sika Manu.
Fun fact: Australia have conceded a mere 16 points in the four games so far, scoring a none-too-shabby 180 in the process. The Kiwis have their work cut out for them.
AUSTRALIA 20 – 22 NEW ZEALAND
Australia advance in on the haka face-to-face, and it nearly brings the house down. Everyone seems up for this (as they should be).
0 mins: New Zealand have first use of the ball, and just hit it up. Fien kicks to David Williams, who offloads to Billy Slater. Slater is dragged down.
1 mins: Australia also stick to basics for their first set. Thurston kicks it dead at the end.
2 mins: Benji Marshall provides the first bit of excitement when he uses a show-and-go to half-break. but he’s too near the touchline to risk any flamboyance. Instead he swtiches it back inside to Vatuvei, and a few tackles later Fien’s bomb is easily diffused by Monaghan.
5 mins: Benji Marshalll blows a golden opportunity when FIen puts a grubber kick to the in-goal which he reaches untouched. When we go up to the video ref, it’s quite obvious that Marshall knocked on instead of grounding it properly.
8 mins: Australia go for a powerplay on the final tackle, when a kick would be better. Thurston is tackled in possession.
11 mins: TRY Darren Lockyer
New Zealand back off Billy Slater just as the ‘roos get into Kiwi territory. Big mistake! He breaks down the right flank and although Hohaia does exceptionally well to tackle him before the line, Slater still manages to offload to the supporting Lockyer. Has it begun?
AUS 4 – 0 NZ
15 mins: TRY David Williams CONVERSION Johnathan Thurston
Yes, it has begun. Australia work a blind side move to create a small gap for David Williams on halfway. It’s all he needs as he races between Vatuvei and the touchline. Hohaia absolutely messes up his attempt at a cover tackle and doesn’t even try to touch Williams, who goes under the posts.
AUS 10 – 0 NZ
17 mins: New Zealand send the kick-off straight dead. Oh dear.
19 mins: New Zealand get a lucky break as Lockyer does what Marshall did earlier, and drops a ball in the in-goal. At full speed it looks like it’s a try, but the video ref spots the knock-on
23 mins: TRY Jeremy Smith CONVERSION Issac Luke
A surprisingly weak try let in by Australia, as Smith runs at the defensive line 10m out from the ‘roos tryline. He breaks through Fitzgibbon and Watmough’s attempted tackles and steamrolls though Slater’s cover tackle.
AUS 10 – 6 NZ
26 mins: Hohaia nearly hands momentum back to Australia when he drops the kick-off behind his own line. Australia spread it wide and Folau nearly barges over in the corner. He offloads but Williams knocks it out trying to pick it up.
27 mins: TRY Jerome Ropati CONVERSION Luke
Well, this is interesting. Marshall dummies close to the line into a tackle by Watmough, and the ball comes loose. As the video ref sees however, it coomes loose because Watmough knocks it out, and Fa’alago plays to teh whistle, picks up the ball and runs to the line. Ropati’s support run means that the Kiwis easily score by the posts.
AUS 10 – 12 NZ
30 mins: New Zealand march upfield on the back of Australian indiscipline, but Marshall drops the ball after a heavy tackle from Craig Fitzgibbon.
31 mins: Australia now get to march to the other line. Thurston puts up a massive bomb, and Folau reaches it before Vatuvei, but he knocks on as he comes back down to Earth.
34 mins: TRY Lockyer CONVERSION Thurston
Okay, that was a bit good. Tupou’s offload to Lockyer and quick hands means that Australia spread the ball wide, and as Watmough cuts back inside he’s able to offload to a supporting Lockyer who dives over for his second. A lot of good handwork in that move.
AUS 16 – 12 NZ
39 mins: Australia put up a bomb, which Perrett diffuses before offloading to Hohaia, who breaks a further 15m. He’s tackled by a covering Thurston, and New Zealand take a few more tackles before the half ends.
HALF TIME: Australia 16 – 12 New Zealand
An entertaining half there, and a bit odd in that most points seemed to be scored against the run of play. However Australia were definitely the better side, but New Zealand will be heartened that they appear to score against this tremendous defence. However, they will need to step up the defensive effort if they hope to be victorious, as Australia always seem on the verge of threatening.
40 mins: New Zealand kick off and manage to force a knock on from Fitzgibbon a few metres from the ‘roos line. New Zealand spend a few tackles going backwards, before a wide pass to Vatuvei allows him to dive into the corner. Unfortunately for him, David Williams is equal to the task, and Vatuvei is bundled into touch (he knocks on over the line anyway). Wasteful from the Kiwis there.
43 mins: New Zealand get a lucky break when David Williams drops the ball just inside his own half. I say dropped, really it seemed obvious that Greg Eastwood and Isaac Luke ‘helped’ it out. The ref doesn’t notice that part.
44 mins: It turns out not to matter as New Zealand fail to threaten the ‘roos, before Fien’s kick in-goal is easily diffused by Thurston.
48 mins: TRY Lance Hohaia CONVERSION Luke
Australia committing penalties galore, and a chargedown of a New Zealand kick that ends up back in Kiwi hands anyway, means that New Zealand have attacking pressure galore. They make it pay when Hohaia dives ove from close range. New Zealand are back in front.
AUS 16 – 18 NZ
51 mins: New Zealand get into the Aussie half again, and Marshall ends the set by chipping the ball. It ends up in David Williams’ hands, but he gets absolutely dumped into touch by a committee of Kiwi defenders
52 mins: It turns out not to matter, as Rapira tries to be a bit too clever and ends up offloading to Inglis.
54 mins: Australia look like they might be threatening but a fantastic hit from Fa’alago dislodges the ball from Thurston. Australia do like they’re stepping up a gear.
56 mins: A fantastic Lockyer grubber traps Hohaia in-goal
57 mins: Glenn Stewart throws a scrappy offload, and Israel Folau picks up the ball very nicely and charges over. Unfortunately for him, Hohaia is there to stay underneath him. A few tackles later it looks like Sam Perrett is about to be forced back in-goal as well, but the ref call held (although Perrett wasn’t) and so gives the penalty when Australia carry on the tackle.
59 mins: TRY Benji Marshall
Oh. My. God. Fien puts in a nice kick to one corner. Billy Slater takes it one handed and begins a counter attack but strays too close to the sideline. He’s about to be bundled into touch, and so throws it back infield… to Benji Marshall who strolls over untouched. He should have gone closer to the posts, because he misses the touchline conversion himself.
AUS 16 – 22 NZ
64 mins: TRY Greg Inglis
Australia strike back, as they spread the ball wide. Lockyer spots that Perrett has come infield, so he throws a lovely miss pass to Inglis (hitherto fairly anonymous) who strolls over. Thurston misses the touchline kick, but the momentum is back with Australia.
AUS 20 – 22 NZ
68 mins: Just as Australia are producing a game-changing defensive set, stopping the Kiwis dead just by their own line, the ref pings them for offside. It’s touch and go, but it’s justifiable.
70 mins: TRY Penalty CONVERSION Marshall
Nathan Fien dabs in a chip towards ,and it bounces terribly for Joel Monaghan. As Hohaia is running into try to score, Monaghan yanks him back. It looked like that Slater would have covered, but the video ref disagrees and awards perhaps the most controversial try ever seen. Marashall adds the extras, and New Zealand now have daylight.
72 mins: Thurston breaks and looks like he’s going to score, but first of all he gets ankle tapped and then secondly tries to thow the ball off the deck, and is deemed to have knocked on.
75 mins: TRY Adam Blair CONVERSION Marshall
Holy… A bomb is put up by Fien, and after a melee of sorts Adam Blair touches down. At first it looks like a knock on, but a breakdown by the video ref sees that there was no actual infringement and the try is awarded. It’s over.
79 mins: New Zealand just hammer away at Australia in attack and defence, and they run the clock out.
FINAL SCORE: Australia 20 – 34 New Zealand
Well… that was incredible. It’s a shame that this game is going to be remembered for a video ref call, because New Zealand were the better side in that second half. Australia imploded in a manner that has never, ever been seen in the modern era. New Zealand capitalised on their opportunities and their effort bordered on hurculean. They won the second half 22-4, a half of dominance which I’m not sure Australia have ever suffered. To think, an hour ago the commentators were talking about Ricky Stuart having the Kangaroos job for as long as he wants. He’ll be lucky to not get the chop now…