Australia 22-23 New Zealand, Tri-Nations, Sydney, September 11
Wallabies' wait continues
Brett Taylor
September 11, 2010
Matt Giteau is shattered by their defeat to New Zealand, Australia v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Australia, September 11, 2010
Australia's search for a victory continues © Getty Images
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With the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations already decided, one could have been forgiven for thinking this match had little riding on it. But this dead rubber was alive and kicking because of the desire of both sides to build momentum ahead of an even bigger piece of silverware being up for grabs on New Zealand soil in 12 months time.

Had Australia won we would have heard about the birth of a World Cup contender, a team who only lost to the All Blacks twice this season due to the absence of the suspended Quade Cooper and a failure to keep 15 men on the pitch. But the All Blacks' historic 10th consecutive victory over their Trans-Tasman rivals instead confirmed that this is one of the most dominant groups ever assembled a year out from a World Cup.

That reputation certainly wasn't strengthened through a quality performance at ANZ Stadium, but by the fact they earned victory without one. Where the Wallabies appear to need absolutely everything to go right for them if they are to achieve so much as one win over the All Blacks, their opponents can come into a match under strength and produce error-riddled and at times directionless rugby and still find themselves in front after 80 minutes.

For the second year in a row, the All Blacks secured a one-point win in Sydney, in a match that followed the now standard format of the Wallabies bursting out of the blocks before fading in the last 20 minutes. And in reality, had Matt Giteau brought his kicking boots, the Wallabies would have run out comfortable winners. The Aussies are inching ever closer to beating these opponents and it might lie in the back of Robbie Deans' mind that their timing could be perfect if they finally turn the tide in 2011.

Graham Henry might have been preparing the excuses when Kurtley Beale kicked the Wallabies out to a 22-9 lead in the 60th minute. No Dan Carter, an early injury to Keven Mealamu, a slightly experimental selection; a loss in front of a massive crowd of over 70,000 parochial Aussies would not have had the All Blacks searching for the panic button. But they were able to flick the switch again, punishing Australia for not putting on more points during their dominance and for stopping their search for tries too early. Henry will be relishing the thought of what his team is capable of with Carter back at the helm and possibly even Sonny Bill Williams in the backline.

The Wallabies got off to a flying start and only Cory Jane's desperate sideline tackle prevented Sydney boy Lachie Turner from scoring in the corner early on. Giteau slotted a penalty soon after but the difference between three points and five points could have been the difference at the end of the game.

Wallabies flanker David Pocock continued his one-man mission to wrestle momentum and the ball away from New Zealand with mixed results, he gave away three points when not rolling away but earned three when the All Blacks entered from the side in their over-eagerness to clear him out. His individual rivalry with Richie McCaw was again a fascinating subplot. The young Wallaby's close-quarters exposure to McCaw has seen the All Blacks skipper's leadership qualities rubbing off on him.

Aaron Cruden will be better off for his first start in Carter's No.10 shirt. He showed his quality with ball in hand on several occasions but his tactical kicking will need to improve if he is to become a Test-quality fly-half. The All Blacks clearly missed Carter's organisation at times, in particular when passes landed behind the backline and when Ma'a Nonu kicked aimlessly to allow the Wallabies backs to launch dangerous counterattacks.

Both coaches rang the changes from early in the second half as the visitors sought to swing momentum in their favour, and the hosts tried to keep it. Jerome Kaino was central to that period of the match, when the tide turned in favour of the All Blacks.

Deans will be desperate to pinpoint the reasons his team can't seem to close out matches. For one, the Wallabies should play with a trailing mindset regardless of the scoreboard, and look to outscore opponents. Fly-half Quade Cooper, fresh from re-signing with the ARU through to the World Cup, looked to keep his side on the front foot in the early stages of the second and thrilled the crowd with a Harlem Globetrotters-worthy step and shimmy to whizz past Jane in broken play. He then abandoned the ball-in-hand strategy to opt for two tactical kicks - both of which he executed perfectly - but perhaps the way to beat the All Blacks is to force them to keep tackling.

But to be overly critical would be to miss the point - the Wallabies could and should have won this match. An old sporting adage says that every loss brings a team closer to victory. For Australia, the wait continues.

© Scrum.com

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