No stopping rampant All Blacks

By Michael Brown

New Zealand 34 Australia 27

The Wallabies were told that if they stopped Richie McCaw, they would stop the All Blacks.

They tried every tactic they could last night, most of them illegal and some downright cheap, but will still have to go back to the drawing board after coming up short.

It was probably for this reason and partly because they had to do it coming from behind, that the All Blacks' 14th consecutive win and 21st at home must rank as one of the sweetest. There was also the small matter of claiming the Tri Nations for the seventh time in its 11-year history.

The home side, mostly McCaw, were baited and battered, put under pressure and had to endure a late Wallabies charge. And if coach Graham Henry wanted his side to pass a stern examination, it's hard to imagine much sterner than the past two epics between these two teams.

The Wallabies played on the edge of the law as they tested the referee's patience, none more than combative blindside Rocky Elsom. He and flying flanker Phil Waugh took pleasure in slowing McCaw in what ever way sprung to mind - Waugh put a high shot on the All Blacks captain that drew blood, Elsom held McCaw down metres away from a ruck for several seconds and Lote Tuqiri put a spear tackle on the tearaway that brought back memories of that tackle last year on Brian O'Driscoll.

"He gave me a wee tickle-up," McCaw recalled in his laconic way. "But I guess I managed to stay out there, so I'm all right.

"I definitely expected attention, sevens always do. I have certainly experienced it before and there will be times when I feel it again but the way I look at it is if you're being taken out, it opens up opportunities elsewhere."

There were opportunities, with the All Blacks scoring three tries, but they were made to work hard for the win and it wasn't until the 68th minute that they hit the front for the first time.

They trailed 20-11 at the break, thanks mainly to a gift to Lote Tuqiri and a dubious try to Elsom, awarded by the video referee when it looked like he had lost control forcing the ball. But there was a moment to warm the hearts of a few craggy, old All Blacks of yesteryear as Henry's team rumbled 25m from a Rodney So'oialo lineout take before Jason Eaton burrowed over for his first test try.

The All Blacks chipped away at Australia's lead and finally got ahead when flying winger Chris Jack finished off a flowing backline move.

Despite the fact the win secured the Tri Nations for the All Blacks, the main talking point was the night McCaw endured.

It was staggering that the Wallabies got away with their rough tactics. Some might have thought it really needed someone like Jerry Collins to administer some justice of his own if the referee wasn't going to deal with it but it was a testament to the All Blacks that they didn't lose their rag. McCaw certainly didn't and the most he could be heard to say was a polite "they've been doing it all day, ref".

Jack, in his own way, tried to keep things in perspective. "When Tasman play Canterbury, I'm pretty sure we will be trying to get him," the big lock said with a laugh. "You can't blame teams for trying to take him out because, let's be honest, he's an outstanding player. I imagine if you look at what we did to Waugh, you would notice the same sort of thing."

At the final whistle, McCaw wiped away the blood from his face. He is yet to experience defeat as an All Blacks captain but he's experienced a lot of other things at the bottom of rucks.

All Blacks 34 (J. Eaton, C. Jack, L. McAlister tries, D. Carter 5 pens, 2 cons).
Australia 27 (L. Tuqiri 2, R. Elsom tries, S. Mortlock 2 pens, 3 cons).
HT: 11-20.

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