Kangaroos prevail on the back of Kiwis generosity

Friday May 6, 2011

The Kangaroos’ dominance of the Anzac Test continued as they stayed in the grind and eventually prevailed on the back of the Kiwis’ generosity to win an often enthralling battle 20-10 at Skilled Park in Robina on Friday night.

Tries to Billy Slater and debutant Jamal Idris inside the last 12 minutes blew the score-line out somewhat after 68 minutes of blood and thunder football.

After Kiwi winger Matthew Duffie had scored on debut in the 26th minute the two sides kept going at each other without either wilting. For 42 minutes, the score remained 10-6 in Australia’s favour, both defending resolutely, if not bravely, in the face of constant fire. This was Test football of the classic variety.

The Kiwis did little to help their cause by turning possession over too often in the second half, and generally at the wrong end of the field as well. Yet, for all that, they found ways of repelling the Kangaroos through inspirational defence, no example better than Simon Mannering’s stunning effort to cut down Idris when he seemed certain to score right on halftime.

Ultimately, though, the error rate became too much for the New Zealanders to counter. As courageously as they defended, handling lapses hurt them with all four Australian tries resulting from Kiwi mistakes, three of them directly so.

And when two of those tries came in a matter of minutes later in the game, the Kangaroos put the contest to bed by jumping to a 20-6 advantage before conceding a wonderful try by fullback Lance Hohaia. It owed much to some earlier work, most notably halfback Kieran Foran magnificently picking up a low pass, making a sharp break and dinking a kick infield off the outside of his right foot to give Hohaia an opportunity he seized.

It was too late to change the outcome but it was the least the Kiwis deserved on a night when they had so much stacked against them. The result meant the Australians extended a run of victories in this contest which has seen them run up an enviable record of victories since the fixture was first played in 1997. With the game being played almost exclusively on Australian soil, the Kangaroos have won every time except the one occasion in 1998 when it was played in New Zealand in 1998.

There have been some embarrassing score-lines along the way but that was never likely to happen this time against a Kiwi side now able to consistently compete with Australia despite being unable to break the Kangaroos’ grip on this one-off annual affair.

When the two teams met in Melbourne last year, Australia held on for a 12-8 success and the 2011 version wasn’t too much different. What disappointed coach Stephen Kearney and his players, though, was the failure to sustain the pressure needed to break Australia down. They achieved that in winning three major titles in the last six years but the formula slipped out of their grasp at a critical stage last night.

It said much for the Kiwis’ resolve that they should be in contention so deep into this contest. After all, they were down to 16 players after the opening minute of the game when prop Sam Rapira dislocated his left thumb and took no further part in the match. And they were even worse off when they were forced to survive the last 23 minutes with only two fit players on the bench after loose forward Jeremy Smith had to leave the field with knee trouble.

Somehow, though, they kept coming up with the means needed to stay in the hunt.

The night had begun well with second rower Adam Blair cleared to play after recovering from an ankle injury. He was impressive, too, making almost 100 metres from 12 carries and adding 25 tackles.

Rapira’s injury and two tries for Australia in the first 21 minutes soon altered the mood but from then on the Kiwis warmed to their task, debutant Lewis Brown making a telling incision down the left edge to set up a try for fellow newcomer Duffie.

In the first half the Kiwis didn’t always finish their sets as well as they might have preferred but their completion rate was healthy. Going to halftime at 6-10 their was every reason to be encouraged while the opening exchanges in the second half must have left the Australians with a feeling of dread that the Kiwis were hanging tough yet again and had the game and the players ? a stack of Four Nations survivors ? to come at them once more.

Instead the New Zealanders began to lose their way with too many fumbles. It meant they were still short of the winning feeling in the Anzac Test despite having an ample number of individual heroes.

The Vodafone Warriors’ trio of Mannering, Ben Matulino and Brown were certainly to the fore. Mannering started in the centres but was shunted around the park as Kearney tried to marshal his forces after losing Rapira and Smith. It mattered not to Mannering who played the full 80 minutes to finish with 102 metres from 13 runs, 38 tackles and no errors.

The young Matulino was right up to the same level, amassing a team-high 138 metres from 15 runs, 27 tackles, no missed tackles and no errors while Brown was quite exceptional in his first Test ? and a tough battle at that ? as he made almost 130 metres from 12 runs, produced six tackles breaks, two line breaks and laid on Duffie’s tries.

It wouldn’t be enough. In the end, there were a few too many gifts on offer for the home side. Now the Kiwis will have to wait until the end of season Test against Australia in Newcastle and the Four Nations tournament to follow in the United Kingdom.

News Source: New Zealand Rugby League

2011 Rugby League International – Match details:

Australia 20
Tries: Billy Slater (2), Jharal Yow Yeh, Jamal Idris
Goals: Johnathan Thurston 2/4

New Zealand – 10
Tries: Matthew Duffie, Lance Hohaia
Goals: Benji Marshall 1/2

Crowd: 26,301 @ Skilled Park, Robina
Referee: Richard Silverwood (England)
Halftime: Australia 10-6