Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 18 News List

New Zealand and Australia to face off in Tri Nations


The lingering effects of last year's World Cup semifinal between New Zealand and Australia promises to hang over their Tri Nations rugby union match today.

New Zealand's 22-10 loss in November highlighted the All Blacks' fading international supremacy, reflected its vulnerability against Australia and led directly to the sacking of coach John Mitchell and captain Reuben Thorne.

Today's match, which marks the centenary of test matches in Wellington, will be the 120th between the Tasman neighbors: a competitive relationship in which the All Blacks have a 66 percent winning record.

New Zealand has won 78 of those tests, Australia 36 but in the professional era -- since 1996 -- the scoresheet is tighter with the All Blacks' 11 wins barely outweighing the Wallabies' nine.

Australia's ability to beat New Zealand in crunch matches has led to observations its players have greater mental toughness than their rivals, a view echoed this week by All Blacks co-coach Wayne Smith.

"Probably in the last decade, they have had the wood on us," Smith said.

New Zealand entered the World Cup semifinal as a clear favorite after its convincing pool form and an easy quarterfinal win over South Africa.

Australia, under current coach Eddie Jones, drew up a simple blueprint for victory and followed it to the letter, winning the match more comfortably than the score suggests.

The Wallabies concentrated on attacking the All Blacks through the inside channel, tying up its loose-forwards, then running at flyhalf Carlos Spencer whom its saw as a weak defender.

They were then able to slide their defense, to mark out wider, closing down the All Blacks' dangerous outside backs.

Australia's game plan for today's match is likely to be similar, so the All Blacks have watched replays of the match.

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