Gap closing on All Blacks say Wallabies
July 22, 2007

The Wallabies trudged off Eden Park in a similar manner to their eight other tests against All Blacks there since 1986 -- though Australia's coach and captain insist they have bridged the gap on the rugby World Cup favourites.

After failing to break a 21-year drought in Auckland, John Connolly and his skipper, Stirling Mortlock, had no qualms about facing New Zealand in the knock-out stages in France -- a semifinal is a distinct possibility on October 13 -- after a superior second half performance enabled the All Blacks to secure a 26-12 victory in the Bledisloe Cup/Tri-Nations decider last night.

"We showed enough to keep impressing on the All Blacks that we are so close to getting on top of them," Connolly insisted.

"If we meet the All Blacks at the World Cup, we definitely will not be intimidated by them. We know we can beat them, and they know that.

"They do not have the psychological edge on us, because there were quite a few "what ifs" in this test."

Although well outplayed after the break the Wallabies were clearly unimpressed with the officiating of Welsh referee Nigel Owens.

Connolly pinpointed a series of decisions that shifted the momentum of the contest either side of halftime by effectively handing the All Blacks 11 critical points.

"Most games swing on close decisions, we saw that in Melbourne (where Australia won 20-15 last month) and we saw that here," Connolly said.

He was referring to penalties against Mortlock and fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper, both converted by Daniel Carter, as well as the lead-up to and execution of Tony Woodcock's try in the 60th minute.

Fullback Chris Latham was adamant he stopped Woodcock short of the line but television match official, South African Johan Meuwesen, gave the green light after viewing several angles of inconclusive replays.

The five-pointer, which took New Zealand to a comfortable 23-12 lead came after reserve halfback Brendon Leonard intercepted a flick to George Gregan at the back of a scrum.

"The halfback was off-side by a metre or two," Connolly claimed.

Earlier Mortlock had been harshly penalised for a high tackle on Doug Howlett -- one of Daniel Carter's seven penalty goals -- to give the home side an 18-12 buffer after 50 minutes.

South African touch judge Mark Lawrence recommended the penalty though the tackle was legitimately around the shoulders.

Connolly was also unhappy Adam Ashley-Cooper was penalised two minutes before the break.

The novice fullback was penalised for throwing the ball away over an advertising hoarding after it ricocheted into touch when he tried to control it with his boot.

Connolly maintained the ball was already "dead" after hitting the barriers.

Australia was on the wrong end of a 13-5 penalty count but Connolly was otherwise satisfied with the Wallabies efforts.

"We played all the rugby in the first half, in the second half the All Blacks had a fair bit of territory," he said.

Mortlock said Owens' decisions had "massive repercussions", particularly the high shot called on him.

"That one seemed to turn the game. They got a leg up from it," her said.

"It was a pretty tight game and in the end they got away with a few more points than I thought they deserved."

The barnstorming centre insisted there was not much between the sides though the All Blacks were definite World Cup favourites.

"I feel we've possibly bridged the gap. There's no doubt this time last year we were way, way behind the All Blacks."

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.