In the first of a three-part feature, sanzarugby.com looks at each of the Tri-Nations team’s 16-year history since the tournament began in 1996, and it is only fitting that we begin with the reigning champions, the Wallabies.
Australia has won 29 of their 72 Tri-Nations matches played, with 42 losses and one draw. While it may not be the most flattering record, Wallabies supporters will no doubt point out that wonderful cliché “you are only as good as your last game”, and that was a stunning 25-20 win over the All Blacks to claim their third title in 2011.
Their first Tri-Nations was won in 2000, and they went back-to-back with another success the following year.
Running alongside the Tri-Nations are trophies for Australia versus New Zealand clashes (Bledisloe Cup) and Australia versus South Africa fixtures (the Mandela Challenge Plate).
With just two Tests against their trans-Tasman rivals this year, the All Blacks 30-14 win at Eden Park ensured it finished 1-1 in 2011, despite Australia’s success in Brisbane, which means the holders of the Bledisloe retain the trophy.
The Wallabies won it in 1998, and held it for five years – their longest stretch in the Bledisloe’s 80-odd year history – but haven’t hoisted the Cup since 2002.
However Australia added the Mandela Plate to their Tri-Nations trophy, with a 2-0 success against the Springboks this year, winning 39-20 in Sydney and 14-9 in Durban.
They have held it for two years now, and have won it six times in the nine years the Plate has been contested.
271 – Matt Burke (7 tries, 19 conversions, 65 penalties, 1 drop)
198 – Stirling Mortlock (10 tries, 21 conversions, 37 penalties)
193 – Matt Giteau (7 tries, 25 penalties, 33 conversions, 3 drop)
10 – Stirling Mortlock, Lote Tuqiri
8 – Joe Roff
7 – Matt Burke, Matt Giteau, Chris Latham
The portents were set when the Wallabies defeated France 35-12 to win their second Rugby World Cup, and the stage was beckoning when then reigning Tri-Nations champions the All Blacks rolled into Sydney for the opening Test.
Exactly 109,874 spectators were on hand – the biggest ever rugby union crowd – to witness quite possibly one of the greatest Tests ever played, with the Wallabies coming back from 24-0 deficit (the All Blacks start was so remarkable Stadium Australia suffered a power cut in the first half!) after 10 minutes to draw level 24-24 at halftime.
It seemed as if Australia would claim victory, before the incomparable Jonah Lomu scored a try to win the match 39-35 in injury time.
The Wallabies would convincingly beat the Springboks 26-6 in Sydney, while a thriller in Johannesburg would see the South Africans down the All Blacks 46-40, which to this day remains the most points put on New Zealand.
The scene was set in Wellington, and it looked as if the All Blacks had done enough, leading 23-21 as the match went into injury time.
However two kicks to touch resulted in two lineout steals to the Wallabies, before All Blacks prop Craig Dowd infringed to give Australia a kick to win the match.
With regular kicker Stirling Mortlock off the field, captain John Eales calmly lined up the kick, striking it cleanly through the middle of the posts to give the Wallabies their first Tri-Nations championship.
With the memories of their triumphant 2011 Tri-Nations still fresh, we take a look at their last title before their success this season, their second title which was the toughest for the Wallabies to win.
Their campaign didn’t begin ideally, losing in their first match against the Springboks in Pretoria, despite overcoming a 14-0 halftime deficit, failure to breach the home team’s try line resulted in a 20-15 loss.
A week earlier the All Blacks had managed to do what the Wallabies hadn’t, and beat the Springboks on their own turf, triumphing 12-3 at Newlands.
However the Wallabies would get their campaign back on track, recording their fifteenth (and most recent) win on New Zealand soil with a historic 23-15 win at Carisbrook, the first time Australia had won at the fabled “House of Pain”.
The champions elect were in control for most of the match, leading 10-5 at halftime, before closing out winners with a penalty try, while Matt Burke collected the rest of the team’s points with a try, two conversions and three penalties.
However things continued to go off script for the Wallabies when they scrapped to a 14-14 draw against the Springboks in Perth, while the All Blacks convincingly defeated the South Africans 26-15 at Eden Park.
The deciding match of the tournament would result in more heartbreak for the All Blacks, as for the second straight year the Wallabies would ‘snatch victory from the jaws of defeat’.
Australia held court in the first half, leading 19-6 at the break.
The All Blacks recovered, scoring 20 points to three in the second stanza, and with ten minutes to play it looked as if New Zealand would take the crown.
However Eales turned down three kickable penalties, stubbornly pushing for the try with kicks to touch each time.
It seemed as if the All Blacks defence would hold, but flyhalf Stephen Larkham threw a sublime inside ball to a rampaging Toutai Kefu, who scored to give the Wallabies a 29-26 win, and the title.
This result would complete the greatest period in Australian rugby history.
In 2005 the Wallabies claimed the Tri-Nations wooden spoon, the first time since 1997 they had claimed that dubious honour.
The All Blacks, fresh off a whitewash of the British and Irish Lions, claimed the series, although in the early stages the Springboks had the early running with identical score line wins (22-16) over Australia in Pretoria and New Zealand in Cape Town.
The first Bledisloe Cup clash in Sydney started promisingly enough, courtesy of a marvelous Drew Mitchell try where he worked past no less than Rodney So’oialo, Dan Carter and Mils Muliaina to help the hosts establish a 13-0 lead.
Yet that only managed to click the All Blacks into gear, as they flexed their muscle at scrum time and orchestrated an attacking game of such fluency that one could have sworn the men in black were painting a masterpiece, such was their dominance in the backend of the game.
Thirty unanswered points gave the Wallabies a 30-13 defeat, while Bryan Habana’s two tries in Perth gave Australia an agonising 22-19 defeat to the Springboks.
The final match of the tournament saw the Wallabies stunned with the All Blacks racing out to a 20-0 lead at Eden Park, before a fight back ensued which saw the visitors close to within one point, before Doug Howlett’s third try of the game gave the home team the Tri-Nations.
The Wallabies finished that year winless, with a record low three bonus points, and would close that season with their worst test losing streak since 1969, which cost Eddie Jones his post.
By the time the All Blacks rolled into Sydney for the final match of the 1999 Tri-Nations, they had already claimed the title, courtesy of three thumping wins – 28-0 against the Springboks in Dunedin, 34-15 against the Wallabies in Auckland and 34-18 against South Africa in Pretoria.
Few would have predicted that the Wallabies would skip out to a remarkable 22-7 halftime lead, and go on to rout the All Black 28-7, which remains to this day the heaviest Test defeat in New Zealand rugby history.
Interestingly the 1999 tournament was the year of the penalty kick, with All Blacks number ten Andrew Mehrtens kicking 21 (including a record 9 at Eden Park) in four tests, while Wallabies fullback Matt Burke slotted over 13.
The rest they say, is history, as the All Blacks crashed out of the consequent World Cup, while the Wallabies went on to claim their second global title.