CAMERON Smith celebrated his first Test as Australia’s fulltime skipper with the match-winning try as the Kangaroos held off a persistent but error-riddled New Zealand 20-12 at Eden Park on Friday night.
In Australia’s first Test of the post-Darren Lockyer era, the Kangaroos overcame the sin-binning of fullback Billy Slater to maintain their dominance of the annual mid-year clash – the Kiwis still without a win since 1998.
Having put themselves back into the contest when Shaun Johnson marked his Test debut with a 90-metre intercept try to cut the deficit to two points, the Kiwis were unable to go on with the job, with Smith sealing the result with a short-range try 10 minutes from fulltime.
The Kiwis will no doubt rue the plethora of errors which punctuated their performance, including 41 missed tackles and two kicks out on the full, though they can take some heart from the fact it was the third straight mid-year Test decided by 10 points or less.
While the fans gave him an icy reception, there was no special treatment for Kiwi-born Australian debutant James Tamou, who was the least productive of the Kangaroos front-rowers with 77 metres from 10 runs.
Desperately needing to be the first to score after the break, the Kiwis had a shocking start to the second stanza, with Jason Nightingale taken into touch on the third tackle, Nathan Fien kicking out on the full and conceding a penalty in the first five minutes.
But their luck turned with Johnson plucking a Cooper Cronk pass in the 46th minute and racing 90 metres to drag the home side within two points at 14-12.
The Kiwi chant went up but it was the Kangaroos who went closest when Akuila Uate fumbled just short of the tryline after Justin Hodges had flung the ball infield when tackled into touch by Brisbane teammate Josh Hoffman.
The Kiwis continued to be their own worst enemy as this time Benji Marshall kicked out on the full inside his own half, and with David Taylor starting to cause damage against a tiring defence, Smith left his mark as he swivelled over after a grubber kick bounced back into his arms.
In front of a pumped-up 35,329-strong crowd that will no doubt add weight to calls for the match to remain part of the calendar, the Kiwis charged out of the gates with Issac Luke going over after teammate Jeremy Smith had been held up over the line.
The Kangaroos hit back as Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis scored four minutes apart to put the visitors in control before they lost Billy Slater to the sin bin when he was deemed to have committed a professional foul in taking out Alex Glenn as he chased a Johnson kick near the tryline.
The one-man advantage didn’t help the Kiwis, however, with the Australians actually extending their advantage beyond a converted try with a penalty just before halftime to lead 14-6.