The buildup was as spicy as an Indian kitchen with Justin Marshall and Xavier Rush upping the ante, calling the Aussies soft and Marshall looking forward to a shot at his World Cup nemesis, George Smith (starting on the bench). The shy, retiring Eddie Jones waded in with a complaint about New Zealand taking out number one defenders at the breakdown.
Both sides had shown terrific recent form, the performance of Australia in beating England so comprehensively probably being the best win of the season to date and suggesting that despite their form and home advantage, New Zealand would find this one tough against a team that as assistant coach Wayne Smith admitted 'had the wood on us'.
Conditions at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington didn't favour the wide-running game that New Zealand have played so beautifully and would be a real test of their new-found toughness up front. But with Keith Robinson succumbing to a back injury one of their talismans of toughness was absent. With Richie McCaw, George Gregan and Joe Roff also absent, both sides were short two marquee names.
Come kick-off though, Australia never got to grips with a muscular display by the All Blacks up front. The Blacks were winning the gainline battles all day, but while they turned possession into territory extremely well, they couldn't retain possession long enough in the first half to convert the pressure into scores. Too often they looked to move ball into the middle and wide when an 'up the jumper' approach was the only sensible one in the conditions. Aggressive Aussie defence, to their credit, meant that knock-ons were made, but on occasion the ABs were taking their eye off the ball as well.
A single Daniel Carter penalty on the board at halftime was scant reward for their efforts and Australia would have been happy with the opportunity to regroup. The only other scoring opportunity was a missed Carter kick when Waugh was spotted well by Rolland having a sly stamp on a New Zealand hand.
The Blacks changed tack in the second half and kept the ball tighter in this period. Nothing changed in the territory or possession pattern, but the Blacks were spending longer periods in the Aussie 22.
But there was a little more fire to proceedings and it erupted briefly when Meealamu and Cannon exchanged punches at the beginning of the second period. Cannon looked the more culpable, but it was under provocation from Meealamu. Rolland decided on 10 minutes for both and a penalty to New Zealand that Carter duly despatched for 6-0.All Black pressure was relentless and the dam finally burst after 60 minutes when for the first time in the match, the Blacks got really quick ball with the Aussie defence sucked in. Spencer, Rockococko and Muliaina combined well to send Howlett in for a simple finish, but the work was done up front by Rush and Collins close to the line.
That, we thought, was that as the score stretched to 13-0 under extremely difficult scoring conditions.
When Matt Giteau launched the most speculative of kicks under the AB posts, the initial reaction was 'what a waste of ball'. But when Rockococko couldn't hold a relatively simple catch, Stirling Mortlock couldn't believe his luck and dived and slid home under no pressure. Game back on as the crowd went very quiet. However, that was a blip rather than a signal for a change of pattern and the Blacks went back to strangling the life out of the Aussies, aided and abetted by a truly shocking kicking performance from Stephen Larkham. Sliced touchfinders and restarts not going the distance or out on the full were spectacularly not helping his team.
So it was no surprise when the rest of the match was played out pretty much in the Australian 22 and Carter converted a late penalty to seal the deal.
The pity was that the conditions of unrelenting rain denied the rugy world a clash between two of the most exciting backlines on the planet. But that's rugby for you. Unless you're playing Wales away.
Minute by Minute1 min Larkham kicks off out on the full Latham hits good return punt off Carter grubberJack takes lineout3 mins Latham takes highball well, NZ penalised for over the topAus make good ground in tight through Mortlock and Radike, but Larkham kicks out on full. Harrison forces error in NZ LO5 mins Giteau holds on in tackle but Marshall takes quickly and punts dead Sniping break from Marshall but knocked on in the offload at pace Sharpe questions Rolland on the takeout of defender to allow Marshall thruABs penalised for driving early at scrum 7 mins Blockdown sees Howlett covering well and ABs get back quickly to force penalty Samo chips down line and Muliaina returns for halfway LO 9 mins ABs take LO agst head thru Jack Muliaina breaks outside Mortlock, Marshall dink forces Latham to concede LO in Aus 2212 mins Meealamu knock-on offers Aussies respite from continuing pressureMeeuws penalised for taking scrum down against Baxter Ball cleared to AB 10m but Aus penalised for delaying LO and again for failing to get away from ball on deck Harrison wins key defensive LO and ball cleared to 25mABs lose ball in backline movement, ball flyhacked ahead but Carter drills ball back to Aus 22m. 16m Pressure on Aus LO results in sloppy clearance Spencer high ball comes off post, dotted down by Waugh, Rolland gives controversial 5m before Aussies force penalty in midfield with offensive defenceHarrison takes LO, Larkham clears to 10m out side 22 20 minsSharpe wins LO agst head from Meealamu underthrow,Larkham finds touch in NZ half Bad knock-on by Spencer, taking eye off ballMortlock takes up centre, followed by Tuqiri but Aus concede pen for Lyons going over top 22mins Aus penalised for playing ball in ruck, ABs punt to corner from 40m Rolland calls captains in to get them to free ball at breakdown - having to give too many pensNZ pressure on line but ball lost forward after Umaga tries to offload close in 25 mins ABs 6 handling errors to Aus 1Muliana runs back kick, Blacks drive to 22m line, but Carter knocks onABs taking eye off ball under some pressure of defence Meeuws pinged again for dropping bind Waugh stamps on AB hand in ruck, first kick at goal from 10m line just under bar from Carter