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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Form guide: Australia
George Gregan is halted as New Zealand overwhelm Australia
Australia had not answer to the All Black onslaught
Australia remain among the favourites to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy in Sydney.

But in the last 12 months they have been surpassed by both England and New Zealand in the global pecking order.

They failed to convince against unfancied Ireland and Wales, before coming unstuck against England and South Africa and finally slumping to a record defeat to old rivals New Zealand.

That string of results, which left them with a poor win-loss record of 3-4 for the year, means coach Eddie Jones has a lot to work on ahead of the tournament.

Australia opened their year's work with a commanding margin of victory against Ireland, but despite scoring six tries it all seemed too much of a struggle.

In the end, a 20-point haul from stand-in stand-off Elton Flatley gave them the win they deserved, but they failed to prove they would stick with the best as a result.

A week on, they outdid Wales by 20 points. But they were occasionally surprised by a relentless Welsh desire to attack, and it was opposition fumbles, rather than a stout Wallaby defence, that maintained the wide margin of victory.

FORM IN 2003

In the two matches, Australia ran in a total of nine tries with Chris Latham, George Gregan and Wendell Sailor scoring two apiece.

Sailor was on the mark against England in Sydney, but it was late and scant consolation in a match in which the hosts were outplayed and outscored three tries to one in a 25-14 defeat.

The world champions endured further setbacks at the start of the Tri-Nations series.

An out-of-sorts South Africa had not been expected to cause a stir in the tournament opener but they raced into a lead they never relinquished.

Worse was to follow two weeks on in Sydney as they succumbed to a record defeat to the All Blacks, conceding seven tries in the process.

This was the first time since 1995 that Australia had lost three successive matches.

It may have all been too late for the Tri-Nations but Australia finally broke their losing streak - it is 20 years since they lost four on the trot - when they faced South Africa for a second time.

In a game marred by violent scenes, they held off the punishing Springboks for a well-earned victory, although Toutai Kefu had to be stretchered off the field in the dying minutes following a terrible, high tackle.

Flatley was the chief protagonist once again with a tally of 19 points, while Mat Rogers and Phil Waugh scored the game's only tries.

The Wallabies showed drastic improvements from their first All Blacks outing of the tournament, when the two sides met in the final game.

Despite walking from the field 21-17 losers they made the All Blacks work hard to get their hands on the Bledisloe Cup with George Smith's try setting up a grandstand finish to the match and the Tri-Nations.

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