McCaw relishing challenges ahead

AUCKLAND // New Zealand boosted their confidence for the Rugby World Cup by beating Australia 30-14 in a Tri Nations Test at Eden Park yesterday, 75 days before the cup final takes place at the same stadium.

The All Blacks and Wallabies are favoured to meet in the final as the world's top-ranked teams, and New Zealand's authoritative victory in front of 54,711 fans gave them a valuable psychological edge as they attempt to end 24 years of World Cup failures.

"It's a big year with what's coming," Richie McCaw, the All Blacks captain, said. "We wanted to make sure we put a performance together for the last time in New Zealand [in the Tri Nations] until the big thing starts."

New Zealand and Australia each opened the Tri Nations tournament with easy wins over South Africa. The three rivals are using the matches to fine-tune combinations before the World Cup starts next month.

"There was some good learning in there for us should we get to play here again later this year," Robbie Deans, the Wallabies coach, said.

New Zealand have not lost a Test to Australia at Eden Park since 1986 and extended their unbeaten run in all Tests on the ground to 22 matches, dating back to 1994.

The All Blacks led 17-0 at the break even though they only had 40 per cent of the possession and were hemmed in their own half for more than two-thirds of the opening half.

The home team's defence set the platform for the win."We dominated the game, physically," Graham Henry, the New Zealand coach, said. "Our defence was very good. We took our chances."

First-half tries by the centre, Ma'a Nonu, and the hooker, Keven Mealamu, a second-half try by the winger, Sitiveni Sivivatu, and 15 points from the fly-half, Dan Carter, allowed New Zealand to retain the Bledisloe Cup, which it has kept from Australia since 2003.

Carter lifted his points tally in Tests to 1,219, improving the international point-scoring record he took last week from England's Jonny Wilkinson. He had a perfect goal-kicking record with three conversions, two penalties and a drop goal, which was only the third of his 82-Test career.

The New Zealand defence held the Wallabies scoreless for 52 minutes until the winger Digby Ioane scored and Quade Cooper converted Australia's first try.

Rocky Elsom, the flanker, added another try two minutes from the end, also converted by Cooper.

But by then the result was beyond doubt. New Zealand's ability to take their chances in the first half, and their aggressive defence, all but settled the outcome by half time.

"I think our intent and purpose was there," McCaw said. "Pressure was the key. If you get up by a few points, we put the pressure on, and that's what it was it was all about.

"Defence wins these games, and we put a lot of work into that."

Deans said he was disappointed with the Wallabies' effort.

"Tactically, we didn't help ourselves," he said. "We left a lot of points out there tonight, but we certainly learned a lot from that.

"It's not going to get any easier come World Cup time."

* Agencies

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