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Wallabies Secure First Tri-Nations Rugby Title Since 2001

Australia defeated New Zealand 25-20 to win its first Tri-Nations rugby union title in 10 years and send the top-ranked All Blacks into the World Cup with back-to-back losses.

Kurtley Beale scored the match-winning try in the 61st minute at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium last night after New Zealand fought back from 20-3 down at halftime to tie the game. Will Genia and Radike Samo also touched down for the Wallabies, with fly-half Quade Cooper kicking the other 10 points.

“That was a big effort, it took everything we had to beat them,” Wallabies captain James Horwill said in a televised interview. “We’ve got our hands on a trophy we haven’t had in 10 years so that’s sweet.”

Australia topped the standings with 13 points from four matches to take its third southern hemisphere championship, which was truncated this year because of the World Cup starting next month in New Zealand. The Wallabies, who previously won the title in 2000 and 2001, were the only one of the three teams to win on the road, beating South Africa 14-9 in Durban.

Yesterday’s victory gives Australian teams both of the southern hemisphere’s major trophies this year after the Queensland Reds secured their first Super Rugby title in July. Six Reds players, including Genia, Samo and Cooper, were in the Wallabies’ starting 15.

New Zealand, which lost in South Africa last week, had been seeking its 11th title in the tournament’s 16 editions. Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu scored tries and Dan Carter kicked 10 points for the All Blacks, who open the World Cup on Sept. 9 against Tonga at Auckland’s Eden Park.

‘Wasn’t Good Enough’

“Everyone realizes that it wasn’t good enough tonight, especially that first 40,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said in a televised interview. “It’s tough to play when you’re behind like that. We’ve got to learn from that.”

U.K. Bookmaker William Hill lengthened its odds on World Cup favorite New Zealand winning its first global championship since 1987 to 4-7 from 8-15 after Australia’s victory. The Wallabies were cut to a 7-2 chance from 4-1.

Australia dominated the physical exchanges in the first half last night to establish a 17-point advantage at the break, just as New Zealand had in the Aug. 6 meeting between the teams at Eden Park. It was the Wallabies’ biggest halftime lead in their 108-year rivalry with the All Blacks.

Genia Spots Gap

Cooper put Australia ahead with a fifth-minute penalty and scrum-half Genia went over for the game’s first try when he darted through a gap between two defenders. Cooper added the conversion to make it 10-0.

All Blacks fly-half Carter made it 10-3 with a penalty before Cooper lifted the lead to 13-3 in the 33rd minute. Moments later, Wallabies No. 8 Samo took a pass from Dan Vickerman and brushed off one tackle before sprinting about 60 meters to score his first international try at the age of 35. Cooper converted for the final score of the first half.

New Zealand hit back with 17 points in 19 minutes after the break. Carter kicked a penalty and then converted Smith’s try after the center went over following 26 phases of continuous possession for the All Blacks.

Nonu exchanged passes with midfield partner Smith in the 58th minute to burst through the home team’s defense and Carter added the extra points to tie the game at 20-20 with 21 minutes left to play.

Game Breaker

Two minutes later, Genia made a break and passed to Digby Ioane, who evaded one tackler in a sprint down center field before offloading for full-back Beale to run in a try.

Although Cooper missed the conversion and failed with a penalty attempt with eight minutes remaining, the Wallabies held on to end their title drought.

“It was an outstanding effort,” said Genia, who was named man of the match. “It’s the first time in 10 years we get to touch the trophy. I think the last time we had it I was 13.”

Wallabies playmaker Cooper escaped a suspension today after being cited for foul play for allegedly striking McCaw in the face with his knee during the second half of the match.

Cooper admitted at a South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby judicial hearing that his knee made contact with McCaw’s face, but testified that it was accidental as he was in the process of getting up from the ground and he had no intention of striking his opponent with the knee. SANZAR judicial officer Jannie Lubbe dismissed the charge after reviewing a videotape of the incident.

“There were bodies everywhere,” Cooper said in televised comments. “It’s a contact sport and blokes are going to come into contact with each other. I’m just looking forward to getting on with rugby and focusing on the World Cup.”

The Wallabies open their bid for a third world championship Sept. 11 against Italy in Auckland.

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