GARETH DUNCAN watched the Wallabies and All Blacks play to an exciting 18-18 stalemate in Brisbane.
What an exciting finish to an entertaining Bledisloe Cup Test.
While there were no tries scored, the injury-ravaged Wallabies’ surprising competiveness and the All Blacks’ resilience made this fixture one of the more exciting games of the season.
The All Blacks led 18-15 at the death, after breaking down a 12-6 half-time deficit. But a 74th-minute penalty by fullback Mike Harris levelled the scores at the death.
The hosts had possession deep in New Zealand’s territory as the final hooter sounded, but conceded a penalty for illegal clearances at the breakdown. Skipper Richie McCaw called for a scrum, giving his side a chance to secure their 17th consecutive Test victory.
A fatigued Wallabies defence struggled in reply, conceding two more penalties from the set-piece. This allowed the All Blacks to break from their own red zone, with outside centre Conrad Smith making the telling run from a quick tap.
On the Wallabies’ 22m line, replacement scrumhalf Piri Weepu marshalled his heavies as they carried the ball to give flyhalf Dan Carter a favourable position to slot the match-winning drop goal (like he did in the second Test against Ireland in June). The pivot executed a clean strike, but his effort was pulled wide.
Again, what an exciting finish.
The Wallabies will lament their discipline and errors as they enjoyed most of the ascendancy, especially in the first half. This was surprising, considering the hosts played without several first-choice players, including skipper David Pocock, lock James Horwill, scrumhalf Will Genia and utility back Berrick Barnes.
The most influential individual in the opening 40 was referee Craig Joubert. The Wallabies were given the benefit of most of the decisions made by the South African official, while he missed a clear knee and headbutt on McCaw by Wallabies flank Scott Higginbotham. The Aussie can expect a citing to follow.
This saw Harris trade penalties with Carter as the Wallabies led 9-6. Carter would rue two missed goal attempts from kickable angles.
The Wallabies worked themselves into several try-scoring opportunities, but their poor handling allowed the All Blacks escape. Kurtley Beale was outstanding at flyhalf.
The visitors also enjoyed some exciting breaks but their decision-making and unforced errors were their downfall.
The All Blacks reduced to 14 men shortly before the break, after a soft penalty conceded by loosehead prop Tony Woodcock. The front-rower was sent to the sin bin for a breakdown transgression, moments after Joubert gave New Zealand a final warning for illegally disrupting the Australian attack at the tackle points.
Harris kicked his fourth penalty to give his team a 12-6 advantage at the end of the first stanza.
The Wallabies failed to capitalise on their one-man advantage in the second half. The only points they managed to score in the third quarter was a Beale penalty, seconds after Woodcock’s return.
Flank Michael Hooper’s sin-binning was instrumental in the swing of momentum thereafter. The All Blacks were in control as Carter led the comeback, kicking four penalties for an 18-15 lead.
The Wallabies then forced the stalemate at the death, ending the All Blacks’ winning streak against the pre-match odds.