New Zealand 12 Australia 20
Flying high ... Greg Inglis dives over for a try. Photo: Getty Images
WHEN Test matches were on the line, Australia could invariably rely on Darren Lockyer. Now, his replacement as captain, Cameron Smith, has assumed that role.
When last night's clash with the Kiwis was still up for grabs, it was Smith who scrapped and ultimately scored, fighting his way through several Kiwi defenders to touch down for the decisive try. Lockyer won so many matches similarly and Smith has picked up where he left off in his first match as the long-term replacement.
Kangaroos hop all over Kiwis
The New Zealand vs Australia Rugby League test match played at Eden Park in Auckland on April 20th 2012. Australia won 20 - 12. All pictures by Peter Meecham. Photo: Peter Meecham
This was Australia's first match since Lockyer's retirement, and it was feared that the cool and calm of their last leader would be missed. It was in parts. Lockyer was at his best when the game was up for grabs; the Kangaroos seemed to have control of the match in their keeping, after leading 14-6 at half-time, but when the Kiwis lifted their intensity in the second half, they were struggling to stay with them until hooker Smith scored with 11 minutes remaining.
If this is the last Anzac Test, it will be remembered as an unpredictable contest with a predictable result. Not even the sin-binning of Australian fullback Billy Slater could stop the Kangaroos, who have not been beaten by the Kiwis at this time of the year since 1998.
The decision by referee Richard Silverwood, with help from video referee David Pakieto, was a marginal one. The Australians will no doubt believe Slater was entitled to shoulder Alex Glenn, after Shaun Johnson's kick ricocheted dangerously, and the Kiwi went down too easily. The Kiwis will believe that justice was served. That said, the Kiwis' inability to take advantage of the extra man proved crucial.
The Australian forwards battled gamely under pressure throughout the contest; prop Paul Gallen was immense, while James Tamou, the controversial Australian selection, provided powerful impact.
Despite the Kiwis' poor record in the contest, these matches are rarely uneventful. There had been so much interest in the Tamou selection that there was interest even in the player profiles being shown on the big screen. Tamou looked composed yet driven during the haka, which he has performed before but on this occasion, of course, was being aimed directly at him.
The Australians showed their hand in the first set; halfback Cooper Cronk's deft kick on the last tackle found a flying Akuila Uate, who was eventually brought down, but not before doing some damage to the shoulder of the Kiwis halfback Johnson. The Warriors youngster played on but was clearly feeling some pain in the joint in a match in which he was trying to feel his way into.
The Kiwis, of course, had plenty of other dangerous playmakers, and it was one of those, hooker Issac Luke, who scored the first try of the night. The Kiwis would have been desperate for the opening try and Luke's strength and guile from dummy-half provided it.
Tamou's introduction happened to coincide with Australia's strong response. Halfback Johnathan Thurston showed good footwork to score, while Slater's good work provided centre Greg Inglis with a try.
Not even the sin-binning of Slater could stop the Australians from pressing ahead. A penalty goal on the half-time siren gave them a 14-6 lead at the break.
Strangely, the Kiwis saved their reply for a few minutes after Slater returned. Johnson intercepted Cronk's pass and ran 80 metres to touch down for a try.
The Australians rallied again. Centre Justin Hodges bounded down the right-hand touchline but was tackled superbly by his Brisbane teammate Josh Hoffman.
The Kiwis pushed and prodded and were probably the stronger side in the second half. But the Australians, even in life after Lockyer, still have match-winners. Last night it was Smith.
AUSTRALIA 20 (G Inglis C Smith J Thurston tries J Thurston 4 goals) bt NEW ZEALAND 12 (S Johnson I Luke tries B Marshall 2 goals) at Eden Park. Referee: Richard Silverwood. Crowd: 35,339.