Resilient All Blacks come of age

By Gregor Paul

Australia 24 New Zealand 28

It's one thing to be crowned champions and another to be crowned champions and really deserve it.

There can't be any doubt - the All Blacks deserved this title. They had to weather a furious Wallaby onslaught for 50 minutes and somehow managed to suck it all up and blow it right back.

They also had to weather a brilliant and relentless last five minutes from the Wallabies who, with two minutes remaining, sneaked back in touch with a Ryan Cross try.

When a careless spillage by an All Black forward gave Australia one last chance - with the hooter having sounded - they so nearly pulled off the impossible. It made for what Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson refers to as "squeaky bum time".

It was a colossal offensive effort and was only repelled by a bigger defensive response.

At the heart of that effort was Rodney So'oialo, who had seemingly cloned himself prior to kick-off. The big No 8 has his detractors, but they will have been left speechless by the occasional captain's contribution.

There will also be a stampede to forgive Piri Weepu his previous sins.

The halfback came off the bench and added a direct threat that Jimmy Cowan wasn't quite posing and it was enough to give the All Blacks the momentum they needed round the fringes.

Yet it wasn't really a night for individuals - it was the collective passion and organisation that saw the All Blacks blast their way back into a test they had threatened to meekly slide out of.

When it looked as if they were about to come spectacularly off the rails, as they had in Sydney, they dug deep and found the belief and composure to rattle the Wallabies.

Instead of sinking without a trace, the All Blacks indulged in their own version of blitzkrieg, scoring three quick-fire tries mid-way through the second half that not only put them out of sight, but also destroyed any confidence the Wallabies once had.

If ever there was a point in a side's development where you could say they came of age, this was it.

The pressure was intense, the game was frantic, both sides were desperate. But only one found the clinical edge. Only one side found the accuracy and the relentless intensity when they needed it.

And it was a good job they did step up in the final half hour, otherwise they really would have been facing an inquiry this morning.

It wouldn't have just been because of the loss, it would have been the ease with which they let the Wallabies get into a commanding position.

Every schoolboy side has it drummed into them that they are potentially at their most vulnerable either side of halftime. That's when thoughts can drift towards the welcoming cup of tea or focus can be left in the shed.

It is the cardinal sin when professional sides get sucker-punched in one of those time slots. It's almost unforgivable if they get hit in both.

The All Blacks definitely looked guilty of underestimating the threat when Stephen Moore broke up the middle with the buzzer primed. Then the visitors dropped off Ryan Cross and let him run too far before a third hesitation allowed Adam Ashley-Cooper to collect Peter Hynes's infield pass and dance past Mils Muliaina and Conrad Smith.

The try after the break was the result of a magical flip pass from Matt Giteau to Richard Brown that sent the All Black defence scrambling and left James Horwill one-on-one with Dan Carter and predictable results.

But there was immediate redemption for the All Blacks. They didn't dwell on what happened or hold an inquisition. They jumped back into their work and Smith broke free, looked to his left and saw Tony Woodcock. He held the pass for a split second - it was a delay that said he couldn't be sure it was the right call giving the ball to a prop.

He ended up throwing it and will never delay again. Woodcock took off as if it was the most natural thing in the world to see a 120kg bloke run down the wing to collect a vital score.

Maybe Woodcock had so much energy to burn because Al Baxter was up to his old tricks, scrummaging as if his feet were bolted to the ground and an anvil buried in his chest. There was certainly something heavy in there that kept causing his shoulders to drop until his head was on the ground and he couldn't be budged by Tony Woodcock.

No wonder the Australians think Woodcock is a myth. The poor bloke never gets a chance to show what he can do because every prop across the Tasman catches sight of him and dives into the turf just in case.

Australia 24 (A. Ashley-Cooper, J. Horwill, R. Cross tries; M. Giteau pen, 3 cons) New Zealand 28 (M. Muliaina, T. Woodcock, P. Weepu, D. Carter tries; D. Carter 4 cons)

- Herald on Sunday

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