Bt John Davidson, Date:16/11/14
New Zealand has won the 2014 Four Nations 22-18 after an intense and absorbing battle at Wellington Stadium.
The Kiwis got home by four points but had to see off a late Australian fightback, with a crucial forward pass call in the dieing seconds stopping the Kangaroos in their tracks.
Man-of-the-match Shaun Johnson steered New Zealand to a second-half lead but a try to replacement Ben Hunt four minutes from full-time gave the Aussies a chance.
But a dramatic victory wasn’t to be, as the Kiwis saw out the physical match triumphant.
The Kangaroos started strongly, getting on the scoreboard in the 10th minute. New Zealand spilled a Cooper Cronk bomb and Michael Jennings pounced to score.
The intensity and the ferocity of the game started ramping up. Martin Taupau went on a few damaging carries and the Kangaroos surged up to roll him back.
After a terrific set Shaun Kenny-Dowall made a break up the middle and on the back of it, Johnson got the ball wide and Jason Nightingale dived over on the wing.
Australia’s defence was in disarray after Kenny-Dowall’s break and the Kiwis smartly found the opening out wide.
New Zealand could sense weakness and a Cronk kick out of the full gave them excellent field position.
Manu Vatuvei’s try in the 33rd minute was inspired by the brilliance of Johnson. On the last tackle the Warriors halfback danced in the middle, stepping defenders at will, before throwing an audacious 25-metre pass to Vatuvei on the wing to score.
It was an astonishing try and gave the Kiwis a vital 14-6 lead.
New Zealand was almost in again just before half-time. Johnson chipped and chased and the Kiwis regathered, but an offload went to Australian hands near the try-line and the danger was averted.
New Zealand headed into the break the more dominant side, completing 88% of their sets compared to 79% for the Aussies. They had also enjoyed 62% possession, clearly tiring out the Kangaroos with the amount of tackles they were forced to make.
But the world champions started the second half with intent. Less than two minutes in and they were over.
It was a set move made in Queensland – Cameron Smith found Cronk, who got it to Daly Cherry-Evans who sprinted away to put Sione Mata’utia in.
Smith’s conversion cut the Kiwi lead to two points.
Taupau went down injured in the 44th minute, a big blow for the home team. The game was held up for a long time as the prop was carried off. The break helped take some sting out of the Australian momentum.
Johnson threatened the Aussie defence on 53 minutes but the Kangaroos contained him well and forced the playmaker into touch.
But Johnson wouldn’t be stopped. A few minutes later he dummied, fended and raced in for a great solo try.
New Zealand went further in front on 61 minutes. A second-man play from Kieran Foran isolated Vatuvei and ‘The Beast’ bullied his way over the try-line. Johnson missed the kick again but the Kiwis were in control with a 10-point lead.
Time was running out for the 2013 World Cup winners.
Jennings was forced into touch and then a Nightingale grubber gave the Kiwis a repeat set on the Australian line. A Johnson kick then handed them another a vital set with 11 minutes left.
The Kangaroos couldn’t get their hands on the ball in good field position.
A pressure-relieving penalty put them on halfway on 73 minutes. But a poor kick from Inglis gave the ball away.
Brisbane Bronco halg Hunt then gave Australia a glimmer of hope with a brilliant play. He dummied and ran from dummy half, found an overlap on the right and then a series of lovely offloads got the ball back to Hunt who scored. From the sideline Smith’s perfect kick cut the score to 22-18. New Zealand just had to see out the next three minutes.
A penalty to Australia on the Kiwi line gave them the ball with 90 seconds left. It was climatic stuff, hand-in-your-mouth stuff, and Mata’utia appeared to have scored a dramatic try in the corner, but it was pulled back for a forward pass in the lead-up.
The referee ignored the video ref for a closer look at what appeared a marginal call, and New Zealand was home. It was a slightly controversial end to what was a great game and a terrific tournament, packed with drama and excitement.
New Zealand (14) 22 Tries: Nightingale, Vatuvei (2), Johnson Goals: Johnson (3)
Australia (6) 18 Tries: Jennings, Mata’utia, Hunt Goals: Smith (3)