All Blacks: Carter's the comeback king

By Gregor Paul

New Zealand 19
Australia 18

Tri-Nations standings

Dan Carter guided the All Blacks to a rare win in Sydney. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter guided the All Blacks to a rare win in Sydney. Photo / Getty Images

Suddenly the world isn't such a bad place any more.

The All Blacks aren't the useless bunch we all said they were last week and that bloke Graham Henry isn't quite the dunce many would have you believe.

A return to basics saw the All Blacks make a return to winning ways. Out went all the new age run it from everywhere stuff and in came Dan Carter and a wave of pragmatism.

His cultured left boot did more than push his side into the right places - it emanated a calmness and gave his side a composure and belied that had previously been missing.

It also landed a penalty in the 78th minute to win the game. Good old Dan - you knew he was never going to miss. That he would stride up there, not hurry himself. Not talk himself out of it and just keep the head down and stroke it through the middle.

Over it went and there for all to see was just how tight the margins are in test rugby. It took just one mistake by Lachie Turner - tackled by Issac Ross on his goal-line - and that made all the difference.

Australia were so close to celebrating a victory - of finally breaking the mental hoodoo the All Blacks hold over them. But no.

The night belonged to the All Blacks. They held their nerve in those dying seconds when the Wallabies had the line under siege.

Why they didn't drop a goal when they had a chance will be something for them to ponder in the days to come. Maybe they lacked belief. Maybe under so much pressure they just couldn't think straight.

Which was not true of the All Blacks. They needed to be brave and mentally strong because they had to scrap all the way to the line.

At 18-16 down with five minutes to go there were shades of Cardiff. Carter even tried to drop a goal before the penalty came.

On reflection the All Blacks probably deserved the win. They slowly built their way into the contest, improving throughout the second half where they controlled both territory and possession.

Quite how the Wallabies got so far ahead will remain a mystery. Their scrum was being royally cleaned and they held no discernable advantage at the collision.

Yet every few minutes they were winning penalties with the All Blacks accused continually accused of not rolling away from the tackled player.

Up would step Giteau and the All Blacks, inch by inch, were slipping into a hole from which it was going to be increasingly to climb out.

But they climbed out thanks to their improved execution of the basics.

The first lineout was thrown to Kieran Read at number two. It was a simple, jump, catch and drive - the lineout equivalent of asking your sister to dance first at the school disco. It's the easy option but it builds the confidence.

Given how bad things were in Durban, last night's aerial performance represented a giant step forward but the All Black lineout remains far from reliable.

Where the real gains were made was in the kick receipt game. There was authority in the way every All Black attacked the ball in the air, with Richie McCaw setting the standards, literally from the first kick-off.

Joe Rokocoko, so shaky, so vulnerable in South Africa, was technically perfect. As was Sitiveni Sivivatu and the Wallabies had no joy in raining bombs upon the All Black three. The old joie de vivre took grip on the All Black back three and there was some venom in the way they returned the ball.

Especially Sivivatu - the enigma of world rugby who was a danger every time he ran. The All Black scrum was also a danger.

Graham Henry's unsubtle plea for Jonathan Kaplan to watch the engagement on Al Baxter's side of the scrum paid dividends. The referee was hands on in that respect and with Baxter unable to work outside the confines of the law, Tony Woodcock made a horrible mess of his opposite.

The Wallaby tight-head was put out of his misery after only half an hour and as he took the walk of the shame to the bench, he must have been aware that he's unlikely to ever be back in a test jersey.

Australia 18 (M. Giteau 6 pens) New Zealand 19 (M. Nonu try; D. Carter con, 4 pens)

- Herald on Sunday

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