By WYNNE GRAY IN SYDNEY
Wallabies 29 All Blacks 26 - Former All Black great Don Clarke raved about the clarity of John Eales' captaincy after the Wallabies surged home with a late try to retain the Tri-Nations title.
Inside the last six minutes with his side four points adrift, Eales turned down the chance of three kickable penalties as he searched for the deciding try. Thrice he ordered kicks to touch for the lineout.
Eales' assured boldness drew the reward from the last lineout when Toutai Kefu's run broke the All Black defence and the No 8 planted the ball one-handed on the line.
The victory ensured a fabulous farewell for Eales and continued the miserable run the All Blacks have had in recent years against the Wallabies.
For Clarke, on his way home to Johannesburg, Eales' leadership in those last stages was extraordinary.
"I just thought that was remarkable captaincy," he told Australian rugby officials.
In his usual self-effacing style, Eales put the result down to his side's composure and getting a bit of fortune at the end.
"We just thought if we kept on maintaining the pressure we could get through," he added.
"We had a lot of confidence in our patterns. We missed out a couple of times there which was disappointing, but it is pretty hard to defend lineouts 5m out."
Eales' remarks said much about this test.
* The Wallabies knew what they were doing in the lineouts. The All Blacks were dreadful on an evening when they lost nine of Anton Oliver's throws and another was crooked.
* The Wallabies rely on their teamwork while the All Blacks, in their strong fightback, showed they have to use more of the individual brilliance which litters their backline.
The opening move looked like an omen when Eales regathered Matthew Burke's kickoff. And while the Wallabies trailed with the final quarter to run, there was almost a feeling of inevitability amongst the 90,978 crowd that the Wallabies would find victory.
The All Blacks had virtually given the test away by halftime. They were 6-19 down after showing fragility, nervousness, indiscipline and poor decision-making. If Carisbrook was poor, this first-half was even worse.
With Maxwell sinbinned for retaliation and Troy Flavell lucky not to join him as he conducted a solo destruction mission on George Gregan, Chris Latham scored when he leapt high over a leaden-footed Jonah Lomu to retrieve a Stephen Larkham bomb.
It was a tactic the Wallabies used whenever the All Blacks rearranged their defence to bring Leon Macdonald up to five-eighths to swap with Andrew Mehrtens.
That switch had worked against the Boks, who did not have a decent kicking game, but the Wallabies were prepared, even though All Black coach Wayne Smith had suggested he would not repeat the scheme. Once more the All Blacks were out-manoeuvred.
"Mehrtens is not a fullback, so we decided to target him," Wallaby coach Eddie Jones said.
It further advanced the belief that the Wallabies, while not the greatest side ever, play a smarter brand of rugby than the All Blacks, identifying their vulnerability to high kicks..
A couple of pick-and-gos from the pack were promising, but the All Blacks' only first half points were two Mehrtens penalties.
However, they conceded four to Burke with some fundamental errors, their general play was confusing and the lineout crumpled.
"Things started out bad," Anton Oliver said, "and progressively got worse. Throwing was bad, lifting was bad, we called some wrong options and it kind of just snowballed from there."
A Pita Alatini bust soon after the interval reawakened the All Blacks. Doug Howlett was in support to score and another Alatini surge soon after drew a sucessful penalty.
After referee Tappe Henning, on a night when his work was very patchy, sinbinned Wallaby prop Rod Moore for some imagined foul, Alatini scored backing up a Lomu break.
In eight minutes the All Blacks had gone from the cellar to the citadel. Maxwell started taking every restart, Mehrtens goaled another penalty and an unlikely win looked probable.
But the momentum swung back to the Wallabies as they continued to dominate New Zealand lineout throws and build their ominous phaseplay.
For some reason, Smith replaced Howlett rather than MacDonald with Christian Cullen who did not touch the ball in his 20-minute appearance in the wilderness on the wing.
Charging Byron Kelleher succumbed to a foot injury, the defence held but conceded more penalties and the Wallabies wound up their attack.
With about 90 seconds left, Kefu scored and the All Blacks revisited the black mist of despair which has enveloped most of their games against the Wallabies in the past four years.
All Blacks 2001 test schedule/scoreboard
All Blacks/Maori squads for 2001
By WYNNE GRAY IN SYDNEY