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Tri-Nations Game 1
New Zealand 18 v Australia 30
at Mt Smart Stadium
Referee: Ashley Klein
The Australian Kangaroos have won their opening Tri-Nations match for the first time in three years tonight, showing too much class in defeating the New Zealand Kiwis 30-18 in front of a vocal crowd at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland.
The Kiwis started strongly, and posted first points through their makeshift five-eighth Nigel Vagana. A 6-0 lead was quickly turned into a 6-12 defecit though, following two quick tries from Karmichael Hunt - much to the disapproval of the parochial home fans.
A punch-up erupted in the 21st minute after Matt King was shoved over the sideline following a Kangaroo mistake, and a cameraman found himself right in the thick of the action as players swarmed in to add their ten cents worth. Shortly afterwards, David Kidwell delivered an absolute bell-ringer of a tackle on Willie Mason - some will see it as sweet justice against Mason after he was spotted swearing at the Kiwis during the haka before the match.
A 30th-minute penalty goal extended the Kangaroos lead to 8 points before a piece of Mark Gasnier brilliance right on half-time saw the Kangaroos leap out to a 20-6 lead. After holding 61% of the ball in the first half, the Kangaroos took a well-deserved 14 point lead into the second forty.
The second half developed into a bit of an arm-wrestle with plenty of chances and half-chances on for both sides. Greg Inglis was unlucky to be denied his first Test try in the 49th minute, called back after the video referee ruled Karmichael Hunt had obstructed the Kiwi defenders.
Kiwi interchange player Jerome Ropati broke the second half deadlock with a well-taken try in the 60th minute to give the Kiwis a sniff, but their spark was quickly extinguished by further Kangaroo tries to Mark O'Meley (67th minute) and Greg Inglis (75th minute). Manu Vatuvei capped off the night for the Kiwis with a try in the final minutes, but the race had well and truly been won by then.
Both teams left nothing in the tank, and at the end of the day it was simply the class of the Australians that proved the telling factor. Both sets of forwards went strongly all night, and it was the backline stars - notably Lockyer and Thurston for the Kangaroos - that proved the difference. Karmichael Hunt also chimed in with some valuable contributions.
The Kiwis tried all night long, but just couldn't crack the Kangaroos when it counted most. Adam Blair produced an eye-catching debut from the bench, providing plenty of strong runs and looking likely to break the line on many occasions. Brent Webb gave a typically strong performance from the back, but the saviour of the Kiwis in 2005 - Stacey Jones - was heavily targeted, and didn't get much of a chance to shine.
New Zealand: 18
Tries: Jerome Ropati, Nigel Vagana, Manu Vatuvei
Goals: Stacey Jones 3/3
Tries: Karmichael Hunt (2), Mark O'Meley, Mark Gasnier, Greg Inglis
Goals: Johnathan Thurston 5/6
By the Clock:
Good evening everyone! The 2006 Tri-Nations kicks off tonight with the defending champions on their own turf, up against an Australian team that will start as solid favourites.
It's a cool, clear night in Auckland - no sign of rain, and it should be a dry track. A good looking crowd in so far.
The anthems have been sung, and the Kiwis are lining up for the haka ... Willie Mason does his bit for international relations by mouthing obscenities as the Kiwis are doing their thing.
KICK OFF - We're underway! Mark O'Meley has started for the Kangaroos in place of Willie Mason.
4 min: A solid start from both teams. Nigel Vagana finds half a gap down the blindside on the last tackle, but his kick ahead is well claimed by Karmichael Hunt.
5 min: A forward pass from the Kangaroos gives the Kiwis a scrum win 40 metres out - and it's followed up by a penalty against Nathan Hindmarsh for a high tackle.
6 min: TRY New Zealand
A quick play-the-ball from David Kidwell allows Nigel Vagana to catch the Aussie markers on the hop - from ten metres out, he squeezes his way through the defence and only JUST gets the ball down, the try awarded by benefit of the doubt.
Stacey Jones adds the extras.
New Zealand 6-0
10 min: Johnathan Thurston puts in a cross-field kick that is easily claimed by Tame Tupou, but he's pushed into touch while trying to evade the Aussie defence up the blindside. Kangaroos on attack, 20 metres out.
11 min: Karmichael Hunt is smashed (legally) by Tame Tupou, forcing an error as the Kangaroo backline was looking dangerous.
13 min: Johnathan Thurston snaffles an intercept and races 40 metres downfield before being caught.
14 min: TRY Australia
Karmichael Hunt crosses the line untouched following some quick hands from Thurston and Lockyer to get the ball out wide.
Johnathan Thurston, despite the instructions of the vocal crowd, adds the extra two.
15 min: Australia get their first penalty of the night from Ashley Klein. Tame Tupou nearly manages to reel in the kick for touch, but he was touching the chalk.
17 min: TRY Australia
A second try for Karmichael Hunt - this time he followed Johnathan Thurston to the line and took a neat short pass that opened up a huge gap in the Kiwis defence. Worrying signs for the Kiwis here.
Thurston adds the extras from right in front.
19 min: It's deja-vu all over again - a Kiwi kick-off is quickly followed by a penalty to the Kangaroos. Aussies on attack, 30 metres out.
21 min: A grubber from Thurston bounces off a thousand legs before being claimed by the Kiwis - but an accidental offside is ruled, and the Kangaroos will have another attacking set.
21 min: BIFF - Mark Gasnier throws a wild pass that Matt King misses, and the ball sails over the touchline. King is then pushed into the advertising boards, and gets up swinging at Manu Vatuvei. Plenty of others rush in to get involved, and the cameraman finds himself right in the middle of it.
Eventually referee Klein awards a penalty to the Kiwis, against Matt King. Considering he was up against Vatuvei, he's lucky that's all he got!
25 min: JUSTICE - David Kidwell comes in with a beautiful shoulder charge on Willie Mason, and big Willie drops like a sack of spuds. He gets up eventually sporting a nice shiner.
26 min: The Kiwis begin to build some pressure on the Kangaroo tryline, but Manu Vatuvei loses the ball in a Mark Gasnier tackle.
27 min: Cameron Smith, looking for a 40/20, ends up putting the kick into the Kiwis in-goal. A great chase from Justin Hodges forces a goal-line drop out.
28 min: With his first touch of the night, Brent Kite is penalised while in possession for an incorrect play-the-ball.
29 min: David Kidwell and Iosia Soliola create some space out wide, but Tame Tupou drops the ball with a fair bit of open space in front of him.
30 min: PENALTY GOAL Australia
Brent Kite makes a huge bust up the middle that ends with Greg Inglis being tackled 10 metres out. On the next play, Stacey Jones is penalised for being offside - but at least it prevented a try.
Johnathan Thurston extends the lead with a penalty kick.
34 min: Consecutive penalties against Ruben Wiki for stripping the ball hands the Kangaroos more attacking possession ...
36 min: Justin Hodges is penalised for an obstruction play, and the Kiwis hang on - somehow.
37 min: Karmichael Hunt is picked up and dragged back into the Kangaroo in-goal.
39 min: TRY Australia
A loose pass from Stacey Jones is swooped on by Mark Gasnier, and he tears upfield with only Simon Mannering chasing. Mannering sticks with him and makes a desperate attempted tackle ten metres out from the tryline, but Gasnier skips through and dots down.
Johnathan Thurston slots a beautiful conversion from out wide.
HALFTIME: New Zealand 6 Australia 20
It's been one heck of a first half, but some crucial lapses from the Kiwis have been ruthlessly siezed by a classy Kangaroos outfit. It'll take a fair effort from the boys in black to get themselves back into this one.
Possession: Kiwis 39% Kangaroos 61%
Completion: Kiwis 68% Kangaroos 72%
Offloads: Kiwis 4 Kangaroos 1
Missed tackles: Kiwis 15 Kangaroos 5
The second half is underway!
42 min: Simon Mannering is penalised for getting Brent Kite into a dangerous position in a tackle. Nothing in it really ...
43 min: Johnathan Thurston makes a meal of a play-the-ball as the Kangaroos were looking dangerous once more. A lucky let-off for the Kiwis.
45 min: Matt King makes a break down the touchline and puts a kick in-field - Tame Tupou claims it in his own in-goal and puts in a great effort to get back into the field of play, but promptly drops the ball.
46 min: A fumble from Karmichael Hunt lets the Kiwis off the hook. Steve Matai may have suffered a knee injury, but he's staying on the field (for now).
48 min: Another silly penalty conceded by the Kiwis, this time Nigel Vagana nearly falls asleep on Andrew Ryan.
49 min: VIDEO REF - possible Kangaroos try ...
49 min: NO TRY - Greg Inglis had stepped through the line and past Brent Webb to score, but the Video Ref rules an obstruction play against Karmichael Hunt. The Kangaroos don't look pleased as they wander back from halfway.
50 min: The Kiwis burst into life - a cross-field kick from Stacey Jones is allowed to bounce into the in-goal, and Darren Lockyer just wins the race to the ball ahead of Manu Vatuvei.
52 min: The Kangaroos defuse a second Jones bomb, but Karmichael Hunt loses the ball as they look to work it out of their own territory.
54 min: Some promising attack from the Kiwis is undone by a fumble close to the Kangaroo line.
58 min: A solid tackle from Manu Vatuvei forces an error from Johnathan Thurston, ending a promising Kangaroo break up-field.
60 min: TRY New Zealand
From five metres out, Jerome Ropati spins out of dummy-half and reaches out to score under the posts, finally cracking some strong Australian defence.
Stacey Jones adds the extras.
64 min: Matt King flies high to claim another Stacey Jones bomb out wide. The Kiwis have fired up, but the Kangaroos are proving tough to crack.
65 min: Johnathan Thurston combines with Reni Maitua to make a half-bust out wide, but the referee calls them back for a forward pass.
67 min: TRY Australia
A strong run from Willie Mason sets up a good chance, and on the next play Mark O'Meley takes a short pass from Cameron Smith and crashes across the line. That should wrap things up for the Kangaroos here.
Johnathan Thurston converts.
73 min: The Kiwis throw the ball around - Roy Asotasi combines with Tony Puletua to make a break up-field, but the movement is stopped when Ruben Wiki throws a no-look pass straight to Greg Inglis.
75 min: TRY Australia
The Kiwis rush up in defence, leaving plenty of holes out wide. Darren Lockyer gets the ball out to Greg Inglis, and he dances down the touchline before scoring the try. The Video Ref takes a look, and awards it on benefit of the doubt.
Thurston misses for the first time tonight.
79 min: Some razzle-dazzle football from the Kangaroos, but Cameron Smith throws a forward pass as Matt King was looking at some wide open spaces in front of him. Reni Maitua is limping off the field.
80 min: TRY New Zealand
Stacey Jones gets a nice off-load away to Dene Halatau, who races 25 metres upfield before being caught by the Kangaroo defence. On the next play, the ball is thrown wide to Manu Vatuvei and he claims a try just before the siren sounds.
Stacey Jones converts from right on the chalk.
FULLTIME: New Zealand 18 Australia 30
A convincing victory for the Kangaroos tonight - on this showing, they'll prove hard to beat in this tournament. The Kiwis will need to re-group quickly to have any chance of defending their 2005 title.
Possession: Kiwis 44% Kangaroos 56%
Completion: Kiwis 69% Kangaroos 64%
Offloads: Kiwis 14 Kangaroos 10
Missed tackles: Kiwis 28 Kangaroos 14
Leagueunlimited.com players of the match:
3 - Darren Lockyer (Kangaroos)
2 - Johnathan Thurston (Kangaroos)
1 - Adam Blair (Kiwis)