Sports editor DAVID LEGGAT recalls the finest wet-weather rugby performance he has seen.




July 6, 1996. The date should be writ large when the historians pinpoint red-letter days of All Black rugby.



The search for the perfect game is meaningless, but qualify it as the perfect wet-weather game and you need look no further than Athletic Park that day - the last time New Zealand and Australia met in Wellington, when the All Blacks tackled a highly proficient Australian side in appalling conditions and tore them apart.



It was the first match of the inaugural Tri-Nations series, and announced the game's toughest international competition with a real flourish.

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The All Blacks stamped their mark in the most emphatic fashion as the most complete side in the world that year. Soon after, John Hart's team went on to win a series in South Africa for the first time, but for sheer quality over 80 minutes, the 43-6 victory over the Wallabies at Athletic Park could not be bettered.



As the 40,000 crowd squelched their way to the seats through driving rain and a biting southerly wind, the portents were not good for entertaining, free-flowing rugby. All the signs pointed to a dour, tight, no-frills approach.



But the All Blacks made nonsense of the accepted tenets for foul-weather rugby, especially with a withering opening 40 minutes in which they ran in four tries and bolted to a 25-6 halftime lead. Effectively, it was game over.



The Australians handed over the psychological initiative at the toss by letting the All Blacks play into the lashing wind and rain, which was exactly what they wanted.



It was the first time the TAB offered betting on rugby matches and anybody with a sense of history could have made a small killing by backing the peerless Michael Jones as the game's first tryscorer.



Jones had scored the opening try of the inaugural World Cup at Eden Park nine years earlier - and the first try of the final of that tournament - then repeated that in the 1991 World Cup opener at Twickenham. Stood to reason, really.



Thousands did prosper on that try, including one seasoned journalist who leapt to his feet when Jones emerged from a ruck of players with the ball.



"I've got him," he shouted, clutching his TAB ticket.

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From there the All Blacks played with a rare sense of unity, purpose, cohesion and desire through the full 80 minutes. They never took their foot off the Wallabies' throat, even long after the match had been decided.



After Jones got things moving, there were tries to Christian Cullen, Justin Marshall, Zinzan Brooke, Jonah Lomu and Jeff Wilson.



And while, as the Herald'srugby writer Wynne Gray correctly observed, "there were no duds in the team" that day, it was Lomu's performance which shone brightest through the gloom.



He had missed the previous test, against Scotland, and was itching for action. Lomu that day was awesome.



He acted as an extra loose forward into the wind, charging into and through the Wallaby defence and the All Blacks benefited spectacularly.



One image remains vivid four years on. Lomu surged through on a kick ahead. The Wallaby defence converged and seemed to have the situation in hand.



But Lomu, with ferocious intensity, dived forward, wrenched the ball out of the slush, turned and passed to halfback Marshall, who raced 50 gut-busting metres into the teeth of the wind before launching himself spectacularly over the line at the lefthand corner.



Lomu spoke of the All Blacks being nervous before the game.



"We did not want to disappoint a capacity crowd having to be out there in the cold.



"We didn't want them to see a boring game," he said.



Of his own game? "It just happened."



The Wallabies were powerless, and even when they did have a period of sustained attack, they couldn't breach the black defensive wall with five successive tap penalties when they were within spitting distance of the All Blacks' line.



The last word should go to the All Blacks captain that day, Sean Fitzpatrick, who knows a thing or two about memorable rugby displays.



"In terms of total performance in our attitude all week to training, then putting that into practice in very difficult conditions, it was great," Fitzpatrick recalled.



"The guys were on the job, we did the whole business and, in the 90s, in execution this was our best test match."