New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup and moved closer to reclaiming the Tri-Nations trophy from South Africa when it beat Australia 20-10 in a hard-fought rugby test on Saturday.

The All Blacks’ defence shone in a second half in which its only points came from a Dan Carter penalty after it had led 17-10 and by two tries to one at halftime.

Fullback Mils Muliaina and centre Conrad Smith scored first-half tries for New Zealand which posted its fourth consecutive win in this season’s Tri-Nations series and its ninth straight win over Australia, surpassing a 60-year-old record.

Australia scored a try through fullback Kurtley Beale and pressed New Zealand strongly throughout the match but was unable to snap an historic losing sequence.

New Zealand needed four tries and a bonus point win to regain the Tri-Nations trophy.

“We definitely had to defend a lot in the second half,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said. “Perhaps late in the first half we tried to throw the ball around a lot and so in the second half we wanted to play more field position.”

New Zealand beat Australia 49-28 last weekend in Melbourne but the Wallabies were able to compete much more strongly in this match, slowing the All Blacks ball to gain a much greater share of possession and of territory.

Although they came closer to matching New Zealand, the Wallabies still lacked the skill or imagination to break the All Blacks line. Their only try, to Beale in the 10th minute, came through an intercept and against the run of play.

“We’re still very disappointed,” Australia captain Rocky Elsom said. “We came here to win and we didn’t do that. The effort was obviously a great deal better than last week and I’m proud of our energy but we wanted a win.

“We did well to hold possession but we wanted to score points and not being able to get over the line cost us.”

The All Blacks seemed on the way to another convincing win when it scored, virtually at its first opportunity, through Muliaina in the sixth minute.

Australia had dominated the opening exchanges through both territory and possession but Muliaina’s try re-emphasized the All Blacks’ ability to score through turnovers and on the counterattack.

The second half was hard-fought but inconclusive. A mixture of strong defense and attacking errors prevented either side stamping its mark, though they evenly shared territory and possession.

The All Blacks’ defense was unrelenting but the Australians were also able to shut down New Zealand’s attacking plays, slow their ball and force turnovers.

New Zealand lost some of the momentum which saw it score 31 tries in six earlier test matches this season but it still looked dangerous from turnover possessions.

Scores:

New Zealand 20 (Mils Muliaina, Conrad Smith tries; Daniel Carter 2 conversions, 2 penalties), Australia 10 (Kurtley Beale try; Matt Giteau conversion, penalty). HT- 17-10.

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