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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 November, 2003, 14:57 GMT
All black for New Zealand

By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Sydney

For John Hart, read John Mitchell. For Taine Randell, Reuben Thorne.

The leaders might have changed, the manner of defeat was different, but the sense of deja-vu was unmistakeable.

New Zealand coach John Mitchell
Mitchell was left to contemplate what could have been

Once again a New Zealand team heralded as the finest on the planet coming into a World Cup came up badly short.

And as their coach and captain faced the first questions of a lengthy inquisition, the atmosphere was distinctly funereal. All black you might say.

If you didn't happen to be Australian, the echoes of Twickenham 1999 were hard to miss in the immediate aftermath of New Zealand's semi-final defeat.

As a grizzled Kiwi journalist sitting alongside me in Sydney's Telstra Stadium remarked: "It feels like someone has died...again."

The anger and recriminations that are sure to follow this latest devastating setback will be more vehement than ever.

Never mind that the Australians played out of their skins in a performance that reinforced their reputation as a nation of winners.

The All Blacks may have lorded it on their last visit to Sydney, but the Wallabies have earned trans-Tasman bragging rights for the next four years.

Mitchell and Thorne are the public faces of another shattering loss, and will have to carry the can.

Chris White's final whistle was the cue for the four-yearly wake to begin

Mitchell, his face cruelly exposed on the stadium's big screen as he watched the disaster unfold, looked a bewildered, broken man long before the end.

An hour after the last rites were issued, and he faced the inevitable resignation question, he was adamant he would not walk away from the job.

Whether he gets the choice is for the powerbrokers in the New Zealand Rugby Union to decide, but the public demand for fall guys tends to suggest not.

Thorne's wavering voice betrayed the bitter pain of defeat as he spoke of his own heartbreak.

He was there at Twickenham four years ago, when Randell was in the captain's chair, and must now contemplate another failed campaign.

Injury was heaped on insult for Justin Marshall and Kees Meeuws, two other survivors from 1999 whose matches ended prematurely.

The feeling prior to this tournament was that attacking verve would hold sway over iron-willed defence, but the Wallabies bounced that theory into touch.

"King Carlos" dethroned

The All Blacks kept hammering away right to the end, but the more they knocked at the door, the tighter it slammed shut.

Australia were wonderfully aggressive in the tackle, and resolutely refused to give them space in which to unleash their revered running game.

On one of the few occasions the defending champions turned over possession, Carlos Spencer exploited the opportunity superbly to create a try for Thorne.

But "King Carlos" was constantly being asked to conjure his magic from unpromising situations, and was dethroned by a rejuvenated Steve Larkham.

At the end, as the noise reached bedlam proportions, "Waltzing Matilda", "Want to be a Wallaby" and "Down Under" cascaded around the stadium.

But in the land of the long white cloud, referee Chris White's final whistle was the cue for the four-yearly wake to begin.

Links to more New Zealand stories


1999: France 43-31 N Zealand
24 Sep 03  |  History

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