Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 20 News List

History no measure as Antipodean rivals clash

REUTERS , SYDNEY

Simple mathematics suggest New Zealand should crush their great rivals Australia in today's Tri-Nations clash in Sydney.

The form guide points to a landslide win for the All Blacks given they thrashed South Africa 52-16 a week after the Australians lost to the Springboks.

But logic has proven to be an unreliable guide in matches between Australia and New Zealand and history suggests the game will be desperately close no matter how the form lines read.

Seven of their last 10 matches have been won by seven points or less with four of their last six games decided in the last minute.

Jonah Lomu scored in the final minute to secure a 39-35 win for the All Blacks in Sydney in 2000 in one of the greatest internationals ever played.

But a few weeks later, captain John Eales landed a long-range penalty to give Australia a 24-23 win in Wellington to secure the Tri-Nations and the Bledisloe Cup for the Wallabies.

A year later, giant No. 8 Toutai Kefu wriggled his way past two tired defenders to score in the final minute and give Australia a 29-26 win in Sydney to retain the trophies.

And last year, Matthew Burke kicked a penalty in the dying seconds to secure a 16-14 win for Australia, also at Sydney.

New Zealand went on to win the Tri-Nations but the Bledisloe Cup remains in Australia.

The All Blacks have gone into almost each of those matches as favorites and the run of close defeats has been bitter to accept for a public used to having the edge over their trans-Tasman rivals.

The All Blacks have won 94 of their 140 tests against Australia over 100 years but things have been much closer since the game went professional in 1995 with New Zealand ahead 18-10.

More recently, Australia have won eight of their past 11 matches, suggesting they may even have an edge on New Zealand.

"It's just been a bit of luck at the end of the day and hopefully that'll turn at some stage," New Zealand flanker Richard McCaw said.

"This game is the big one, this is the one we really want so we're going to give everything to make sure that happens."

Strangely, the Tri-Nations has followed a pattern whereby South Africa regularly beat Australia, New Zealand beat South Africa and Australia beat New Zealand with home ground advantage a significant factor.

All Blacks assistant coach Robbie Deans said New Zealand were hoping to break that pattern today.

"We don't bring any baggage with us, this opportunity stands alone," he said.

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