All Blacks hammer Wallabies in opener

Hooker Keven Mealamu scored two first half tries Saturday to lead New Zealand to a 32-12 win over Australia in the opening match of the Tri-Nations rugby series. Mealamu touched down twice in a five minute period at Jade Stadium, while Australia was reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of flanker Rocky Elsom, to push the All Blacks toward their 18th straight win in home test matches.


Captain Richie McCaw scored in the 10th minute of the second half to extend New Zealand’s 14-7 halftime margin and replacement center Isaia Toeava added a runaway try four minutes from fulltime to break the back of the Wallabies’ resistance.


Flyhalf Daniel Carter missed his first two shots at goal, then struck five in a row to finish with an individual tally of 12 points from two penalties and three conversions.


“There’s not much gas left in the tank,” McCaw said at the end of a fast-paced and physical match. “We had to work hard for the win but we took the opportunities we had to in a game against Australia.


“The boys dug pretty deep tonight and it paid off. It’s a start and we’re definitely going to get better with six tests in the Tri-Nations.” Australia led 7-0 after a brilliant 15th-minute try to winger Lote Tuqiri, converted by Stirling Mortlock. However, New Zealand took advantage of an increasingly sound platform and set pieces, particularly at scrums, to impose its will on the match.


Mealamu scored in the 29th minute and again in the 34th as the Wallabies struggled without Elsom, who was twice warned for back chat before being sin-binned for a series of professional fouls.


“We assisted New Zealand greatly tonight,” said Wallabies coach John Connolly, who experienced defeat for the first time in four matches in charge of the Australian team.


“We coughed up 14 points while we were down to 14 men. New Zealand scored four tries but we assisted them greatly,” Connolly said. “There are times you lose rugby matches and times you win them and we assisted them greatly tonight.” Australia considered itself still in the match with only a seven point halftime deficit, but McCaw’s anti-climactic try in the 10th minute of the second half took the game from them.


Stephen Latham was caught in possession near his own goalline after a deftly placed kick from Aaron Mauger. New Zealand forced him back to the line and McCaw had only to touch the ball in the middle of the Australian rugby to achieve New Zealand’s third try.


Replacement loose forward Scott Fava had been on the field only a minute when he dived through a goalline pileup to score Australia’s second try, to cut the lead to 24-7.


There was still a slim hope for the Wallabies but Toeava’s late try was a brutal coup de grace.


Carter kicked a 54th minute penalty for a 27-12 lead before charging down an attacking kick from the Wallabies, recovering possession and sending Toeava on a 60 meter dash to the line.


“I’m delighted. Best performance for a while,” said All Blacks coach Graham Henry. “The scrum was potent but the lineout was superb.” New Zealand crushed the Wallabies scrum, sending young hooker Tai McIsaac to the sideline with a rib injury. The All Blacks’ lineout, which was a perceptible weakness in tests against Ireland and Argentina, became a strength as Mealamu linked more effectively with his jumpers.


— Scores: New Zealand 32 (Keven Mealamu 2, Richie McCaw, Isaia Toeava tries; Daniel Carter 3 conversions, 2 penalties), Australia 12 (Lote Tuqiri, Scott Fava tries; Stirling Mortlock conversion). HT, 14-7.

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