History was in the air at Eden Park in Auckland as the All Blacks celebrated 100 years of Tests by regaining the Bledisloe Cup and completing a clean sweep in this season's Tri-Nations series.
A pair of first-half tries by Doug Howlett laid the platform for New Zealand's third grand slam in the southern- hemisphere championship, which began in 1996. But if the past and present were taken care of, the future looked tantalisingly less certain, with the re-emergence of Australia as contenders for the World Cup on home soil in October.
A drive-past of 25 former All Black captains put the crowd in the party mood, but they were soon rummaging for their raincoats and bemoaning a far less riotous display from the New Zealand backs than had been seen in record wins earlier in the tournament.
Instead it was a night for the All Black forwards to show their mettle. Keven Mealamu's initial waywardness at the line-out set the alarm bells clanging, but around the fringes the Wallabies were slammed back by some superb tackles from Chris Jack, Ali Williams and Reuben Thorne. When Australia closed to within four points with a try by George Smith after 76 minutes, Thorne spiked their guns with a couple of brave takes at the front of the line-out.
"New Zealand have certainly set the benchmark in southern- hemisphere rugby," said Australia's captain, George Gregan, perhaps mindful of leaving room for England in the world order. The All Black coach, John Mitchell, observed his delighted team's lap of honour with the same calm detachment that has characterised his 22 months in charge. To date it has been a successful reign - two Tri- Nations titles, and 16 wins and a draw from 20 matches - but with the caveat of defeats by England at Twickenham last November and in Wellington in June.
New Zealand's threat, clearly, increases in direct proportion to their ability to get the ball out wide. …