Bledisloe Cup: The best clashes

By David Leggat

Greg Cornelsen stole the show at Eden Park with four tries against the All Blacks.
Greg Cornelsen stole the show at Eden Park with four tries against the All Blacks.

The history is long and proud, even if the balance sheet is lopsided. The 149th transtasman test on Saturday night - and first at Dunedin's indoor stadium - is a dead rubber. Doesn't matter, so we hear. Try telling the Aussies, who have won just 41 of the 148 matches since 1903, or the All Blacks, who have never fancied giving suckers a hand up off the canvas. For all that the All Blacks have had the wood on the Wallabies in recent seasons, the rivalry has produced fabulous Bledisloe Cup contests. David Leggat picks six standouts.

1 Australia 30 New Zealand 16
Eden Park, Sept 9, 1978

The series had been decided by the time of the third test, the All Blacks having nailed wins in Wellington and Christchurch. In addition, Wallaby coach Daryl Haberecht had suffered a heart attack at Wanganui days earlier and gifted back Paul McLean was out of the tour with a knee injury. No chance Australia, then. Clean sweep beckoning. Instead Australia played as if inspired, and it was their bushranger No 8 Greg Cornelsen who stole the show. The Queensland superannuation consultant became the first Australian to score four tries in a test and remains the only player to have scored four against the All Blacks.

The Wallabies' 30 points were a record against them to that point. Australia scored five tries to two, the other by Cornelsen's flank partner Gary Pearse. Afterwards the magnanimous Cornelsen acknowledged it could just as easily have been Pearse, who also had a fine test, who'd got the four. Curiously in a 25-test career they were Cornelsen's only tries. "Who was the bloke who scored the other try?" Pearse has said. "Everyone says who cares? I do, because I got it."

2 Australia 20 New Zealand 16
Sydney Football Stadium, August 17, 1994

There have been finer tests between the transtasman rivals but this will always be remembered for The Tackle. Australia, four points up with seconds remaining, were trying to withstand a final onslaught when Jeff Wilson, already the golden boy of New Zealand sport, skipped inside and outside three despairing Wallaby tacklers and sprinted towards the righthand corner. He dived for the line as he was hit by Australian halfback George Gregan, four tests into a terrific career. The tackle dislodged the ball in mid-dive, and ensured the win for Australia. "I was just covering. I was doing what any other halfback does. I was just lucky to make that tackle. You try and make that tackle another 100 times you'd never make it," Gregan modestly said.

3 New Zealand 43 Australia 6
Athletic Park, July 6, 1996

It was a foul day, the prospect was for a grim battle of attrition in the opening game in Tri-Nations history. Instead the 40,000 got what many wise heads reckoned might have been as close to that unattainable concept, perfection, from the All Blacks. They sparkled in the sleet. One memory remains fixed in the mind. Jonah Lomu and an Australian player closed in on a loose ball in mid-field, grubber kicked through by Andrew Mehrtens. It was a 50-50 contest. Lomu made it a no contest, wrenched the ball away, got to his feet and although seemingly wrapped up, flipped a pass to Justin Marshall who sprinted 45m to the corner for one of six tries. Running rugby in the rain, barely an error. It was the first bonus point awarded in international rugby. If it wasn't perfection it was damn close.

4 New Zealand 39 Australia 35
Stadium Australia, July 15, 2000

A fabulous contest two months before the Sydney Olympics and a smidgeon under 110,000 were squashed into the Olympic Stadium at Homebush. The All Blacks were running away with it, 24-0 up in eight minutes. By halftime it was 24-all in a pendulum contest which was defying belief. When New Zealand-born hooker Jeremy Paul scored for the Wallabies six minutes from the end, to make it 35-34, the die seemed cast. But it had not been a normal night. Time was up when Taine Randell flung a pass left to Lomu. He shrugged off Stephen Larkham 20m out and tip-toed down the line to score the 10th and final try of a staggering night. Many of those who saw it wondered if they had indeed seen the most exhilarating contest of all.

5 Australia 24 New Zealand 23
Westpac Stadium, August 5 2000

Three weeks later and another heartbreaker for All Blacks fans, and this time the hurt came from nobody. Wallaby captain John Eales didn't particularly appreciate his nickname - Nobody, as in nobody's perfect - but he was among the great modern forwards. Not only a top class lock and an outstanding athlete, he could kick goals. His most celebrated came with the final kick of the game, the first to be played at the new stadium. The All Blacks were 23-21 up and pressing when Stephen Larkham cleared the ball into touch into the All Blacks' half. Australia won the lineout, and from the ensuing ruck a penalty. Eales looked about for the regular goalkicker Stirling Mortlock. "Jeremy Paul said 'Mate, Stirling's off. It's your kick'," Eales recalled. So he looked again at the posts, planted the ball, strode in and from 25m struck it between the posts before raising his arms and being engulfed by team- mates. "I kicked 100 of those as a kid in the back yard trying to win a test for Australia," Eales quipped.

6 New Zealand 50 Australia 21
Telstra Stadium, Sydney, July 26, 2003

A week earlier, the Springboks had been dusted 52-16 in Pretoria, so there were long odds on another half ton, given the travel involved and the sheer difficulty of backing up to the same degree. The backdrop was intriguing. The Wallabies talked publicly of avenging their netball players' world championship final loss to the Silver Ferns a few days earlier. On the other side, there was a grumbling dispute with New Zealand Rugby Union officials over the size of any World Cup bonus. Whatever, the All Blacks belted the Wallabies, scoring seven tries - all by the backs, with three to Joltin' Joe Rokocoko. It remains the highest score the All Blacks have posted against the Aussies. The result was tipped as a World Cup harbinger for later that year, which just goes to show the dangers of fancy speculation. The teams met on the same ground in the semifinals almost four months later. The outcome was rather different.

- NZ Herald

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