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July 19, 2009

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Hot Donald powers All Blacks past Wallabies

Flyhalf Stephen Donald quelled a bitter selection debate when he kicked 17 points to guide New Zealand to a 22-16 win over Australia in the opening test of the Tri-Nations series in Auckland yesterday.

Donald narrowly beat Luke McAlister to the No. 10 jersey in the All Blacks starting lineup and justified his selection by kicking a conversion and five penalties to lead New Zealand's comeback from a 3-13 first-half deficit.

Donald's conversion of captain Richie McCaw's first-half try cut the Wallabies' lead to 10-13 at halftime and he added four penalties in the second spell, answered by a single penalty from his opposite Matt Giteau, to engineer New Zealand's victory.

The All Blacks' victory extended their winning streak at Eden Park to 20 test matches and lengthened their winning run over the Wallabies at the Auckland stadium to 11 matches spanning 23 years. They increased their chances of retaining the Tri-Nations title they have claimed for the past four years.

"At the end of the day there's very little between these teams," McCaw said. "The team that wants to dig deepest is the team that will always come out on top in the end in a match like that."

Australia seemed on course to break its losing run in Auckland when it built a 13-3 lead inside the first 20 minutes. Inside center Berrick Barnes scored a brilliant try four minutes into the match, running back a poor 22-meter restart by Donald and eluding weak All Black tackles on a 20-meter run to the line.

Giteau converted the try and kicked a penalty to give Australia a 10-0 lead before Donald had his first kicking success to put the hosts on the board after 14 minutes.

The Wallabies had the chance to put the match beyond New Zealand's reach in the 17th when they charged down a clearing kick from Donald and mounted a concerted raid on the All Blacks' goalline.

A try seemed inevitable until a pass between Barnes and flanker George Smith went to ground, blemishing Smith's 100th test appearance for Australia.

The lost opportunity proved a turning point in the game. Although Giteau scored again in the 20th to give Australia a 13-3 lead, the momentum swung New Zealand's way.

McCaw scored a 25th-minute try, taking an in-pass from center Conrad Smith after an All Blacks buildup and Donald's conversion slashed the lead to 13-10 at halftime.


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