Tri Nations 2001
Wallabies secure perfect send-off for Eales
September 1, 2001
John Eales lifts the Tri Nations trophy on the occasion of his final cap
© Getty Images
John Eales was given the farewell he deserved and the Wallabies have again displayed their sheer ignorance of the term "give up" to stun the All Black with a last-gasp 29-26 victory at Stadium Australia.
The victory was the perfect way for Eales to end his 86-Test career with the Wallabies retaining the Tri-Nations trophy. But it took a try to No.8 Toutai Kefu with just over a minute remaining to secure the victory after the Wallabies had blown a 19-6 half-time lead.
The All Blacks looked set to crash Eales' party when in the space of 10 minutes they had turned a 19-6 half-time deficit into a 23-19 lead thanks to two tries.
But the self-belief of the world champion Wallabies to defy the scoreboard and any pressure thrown at them has now taken on legendary proportions to once again cause heartache for the All Blacks and their fans. After Eales' match-winning conversion in Wellington last year, the All Blacks can rightly feel a sense of injustice with another victory snatched from their grasp. They certainly didn't deserve such a result after fighting back magnificently. But they will also realise they did not deserve to win when they look back on their atrocious efforts at the lineout.
The All Blacks struggled to apply any sustained pressure during the game with the lineout at the core of the problem. Of the 13 lineouts the All Blacks threw in to, they lost seven. The statistic is more telling when in the Wallabies' half and the need to mount pressure through possession is crucial, the All Blacks lost four of their nine throws.
The Wallabies, on the other hand, controlled their own lineouts, winning 15 out of 17 throws.
No one would blame either side if they failed to repeat the amazing 80 minutes at Stadium Australia last year. But they gave it their best shot in a pulsating second-half after many Wallaby supporters had probably started a few premature celebrations with such a handsome half-time lead.
Auckland flyer Doug Howlett crossed just one minute into the second-half after some excellent work by inside-centre Pita Alatini. Matt Burke missed a penalty for the Wallabies and when prop Rod Moore was sin-binned in the 47th minute the advantage had swung to the visitors. They did not disappoint. Jonah Lomu made a rare surge down the sideline and passed inside to the man-of-the-moment Alatini to score. The All Blacks were in front and Mehrtens' conversion extended the lead to 23-19.
With little possession it wasn't until 15 minutes into the second-half that the Wallabies applied any sort of pressure. But they could not convert it into points and it was Mehrtens who pushed the All Blacks ahead 26-19 with a further penalty.
Sensing that the All Blacks were going to deny Eales an appropriate farewell, the Wallabies applied an extraordinary amount of pressure in the final 12 minutes. Winger Chris Latham was driven into touch just short of the line by Troy Flavell and from an ensuing penalty Andrew Walker, who had only just come on the field for Matt Burke, reduced the lead to 26-22 in the 68th minute.
The game was set for a stunning final 10 minutes as the Wallabies laid siege to the All Blacks line. But try as they might the Wallabies could not breach the miserly Kiwi defence. Twice the Wallabies had the option of a penalty shot at goal with time on the clock, but on both occasions kicked for the line in the quest for a try.
With just over a minute remaining, the Wallabies had one last chance and kicked for the line. They marched it forward slightly from the ensuing lineout before spreading it right where Kefu hit the ball hard and straight and, despite the best efforts of the All Blacks, crashed over beside the upright. Elton Flatley, who had replaced Grey, converted the try and once again the Wallabies and All Blacks had managed to conjure up another thriller.
The Wallabies had earlier deserved their half-time lead after a perfect kicking display from Burke that netted 14 points and a spectacular try to Latham in the 15th minute.
South African referee Tappe Henning was quick to jump on any hint of foul play in the opening stages. All Blacks lock Norm Maxwell was incorrectly given 10 minutes in the bin in the seventh minute for an infringement at the breakdown, when it seemed Wallaby hooker Michael Foley was the player who deserved the rest. Wallaby inside-centre Nathan Grey was also harshly done by when he was penalised for an obstruction at a restart that Andrew Mehrtens gladly slotted over for the penalty.
Burke and Mehrtens made the most of the chances that came their way to swap early penalty goals. Burke put the Wallabies in front 6-3 after eight minutes and the lead was extended to 13-3 when Latham soared over Lomu to score after a cross-field bomb by Stephen Larkham. Burke landed a superb sideline conversion and at that stage the Wallabies looked in control.
But the All Blacks never eased up on the pressure with blindside flanker Flavell ensuring Larkham and halfback George Gregan had little time to even blink once the ball came near them. The Wallaby halves were left in no doubt that the second they touched the ball, Flavell was right behind it. Unfortunately, Flavell let his enthusiasm get the better of him, at times masquerading as a Wallaby so eager was he to get into their line and disrupt the attack. It proved costly in the lead-up to Latham's try.
The All Blacks certainly had their moments in attack and looked set to reply when halfback Byron Kelleher was dragged into touch by Kefu five metres out after a 45m team break.
Burke extended the lead to 16-3 in the 25th minute before the Wallaby defence was again stretched when Flavell was stopped one metre short of the line by Latham and Gregan.
Mehrtens reduced the lead to 16-6 with a penalty in the 31st minute, but the Canterbury sharpshooter will be rueing a couple of easy misses by his standards. Burke completed his perfect half on the siren with a penalty to take the Wallabies into the break with a 19-6 lead. Flavell was the culprit on this occasion, failing to let the ball go in a tackle almost in front of the posts.