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New Zealand completes season sweep of Australia

by Andrew Mckirdy

New Zealand maintained its stranglehold over Australia with a 32-19 win in Japan’s first taste of the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday.

A crowd of 44,030 at Tokyo’s National Stadium watched the All Blacks extend their unbeaten run over the Wallabies to seven games, with Dan Carter kicking 22 points to add to tries from Sitiveni Sivivatu and Conrad Smith on either side of halftime.

A try from Peter Hynes — eventually awarded after video replay — had given Australia a halftime lead, but New Zealand took control after the break to complete a season sweep and head into its forthcoming European tour on a high.

“It is great to have some momentum,” said All Blacks head coach Graham Henry. “The game as a spectacle was excellent, and I’m sure the people who watched it will have enjoyed it.

“It was outstanding to hear the Japanese people calling out ‘All Blacks, All Blacks,’ and to have a game like that and a full house and people going away with smiles on their faces can only help the game here.”

The match was only the second time the Bledisloe Cup has been contested away from home, following last year’s edition in Hong Kong, and the Tokyo crowd left a positive impression on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

“I thought it was a great atmosphere,” he said. “Both teams were quite positive in wanting to play rugby. We have played a few tests already, but going somewhere new adds something to it. A win helps, but we certainly enjoyed the game out there.”

McCaw had a hand in the first try of the evening, taking a pass from Mils Muliana and reacting quickly to send Sivivatu over the line.

Matt Giteau and Carter then traded penalty kicks before Sivivatu was sin-binned for taking out Hynes in mid-air, and the winger’s absence would prove costly for the All Blacks.

Hynes exploited the gap to rush over and touch down in the corner, winning the try decision after close scrutiny of video evidence.

The Wallabies failed to get the same verdict when Wycliff Palu crossed the line minutes later, and the All Blacks were lucky to escape further after repelling a desperate surge seconds before halftime.

“We built a lot of pressure and came short on a number of occasions, which I guess is that finishing touch we are looking for,” said Australia head coach Robbie Deans.

The referee hampered New Zealand’s attempts to hit back after the break when play was halted with Smith clean through, but nothing could stop the center minutes later when he broke through James O’Connor’s tackle to touch down.

The Australians responded by laying siege to their opponents’ line, but Carter landed another two penalties to give the All Blacks a 10-point lead with 10 minutes left on the clock. When Giteau pulled one back, Carter simply kicked two more.

“I couldn’t fault the guys for effort,” said Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom. “I was really proud of the effort they put in and the intensity we brought to the match. But it wasn’t good enough, which is a big problem.”