In a roller-coaster season where every epic victory was followed by a crushing defeat, the Wallabies had one guts in the Bledisloe Cup until a bizarre last-minute refereeing decision turned their historic 37-34 victory into a heartbreaking 39-37 defeat.
It was a terrible result for rugby and Australia lost their 20th in a row at Bledisloe. Despite a season-best performance that was cruelly tamed by an officiating decision that will be debated for decades, Australia now slump to their ninth-worst ranking in the world.
The grades were good from the start. The Wallabies attacked Hak, advancing their boomerang formation to counter the war dance. But when kick-off came, New Zealand surged first. Wallaby lock Jed Holloway missed a kick in the smoke, a costly error compounded by two silly penalties in two minutes. The All Blacks twice denied three to chase five. And in the fourth minute, a dozen black jerseys raced through to make it 7-0.
In a season of poor starts, Australia have botched another one. All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo’unga kicked chips behind the lines and caused havoc, while Beauden Barrett unleashed bombs that the Wallabies could not grasp. With ten minutes to go, Australia only had 10% possession. It was 10-0 when captain James Slipper went over in the first scrum.
Australia finally got the ball and pushed forward, reeling from ruck to ruck with little progress. Then Rob Leota won a collision, PeteSamu made a steal and Dave Porecki of all people chased down a kick to put the All Blacks in their own quarter for only the second time all quarter.
Now the Wallabies were rushing the line, quick hands bending defenders at nice angles. Australia won a penalty to pull to 10-3 before running into the red zone from a free kick. They went wide, Len Ikitau’s deft tap produced a cross and Andrew Kellaway surged over but the try was disallowed when a blade of grass was spotted between the ball and the turf. No attempt.
But the tide has turned. Australia collapsed the All Black scrum 12 meters out. Slipper didn’t want three. His side were on the rise and he wanted the points to prove it. He got them. In the 25th minute the Gold Rush turned right and Jake Gordon fed Rob Valetini on the run. The Melbourne No.8 burst through Sam Whitelock to score to level the score at 10-10.
Australia had its tail up. They were level on the scoreboard and winning clinches and the All Blacks bench was busy with a lot of concussion soldiers, including captain Sam Cane. Valetini then did it again, knocking Barrett on his ass and stealing the pill. When the scrum lasted and Sam broke through. A kick-through created a siege in the corner but after 14 steady phases the All Blacks spoiled and the chance was gone.
The momentum went with it. Tom Wright was shown a yellow card, followed by Darcy Swain. Australia were reduced to 13 men. Still, they persevered. New Zealand kicker Samisoni Taukei’a soared over but Gordon squirmed under him and forced a tap-in. It rocked the All Blacks. They knocked twice cold with an open lane and went into halftime 10-10.
With two still in the basket, Australia started the second half the same as the first – badly. With three minutes to go, Taukei’aho’s hook fell to 17-10. Foley did get a penalty at 17-13 but the All Blacks upped the ante and allowed the home side to go with them. They couldn’t. First, Mo’ung’s angled drive eluded Foley’s drive, then minutes later Beauden Barrett crossed the line for Will Jordan to make it 31-13.
All the black eyes were smiling, but Australia refused to give in. Calm but conservative, Foley’s flat passes and wrist flicks now picked up the pace and he put Kellaway away to make it 31-20. Then they linked up again, this time heading down the right, the chilling wing crashing over for his fifth try in four Bledisloe games.
The difference was four points 12 minutes ago. An All Black penalty reduced it to seven. But then Australia attacked on the thin side, with Marika Koroibete and Samu racing down the line and passing back and forth to get it back to 34-32. Foley the Iceman made it 34-all.
With six minutes left, the benches empty and both teams breathing heavily, the teams went head-to-head. However, the All Blacks blinked first, Valetini stealing it on the halfway line. Australia penalty. Foley shook his head. Too far. In came Nic White, bushy as a moustache, stepped up and kicked it 50 meters to put them in front for the first time.
But the All Blacks came again, winning the penalty. But their egos got the better of the lithium. They turned down three and went for five. But it failed, Australia won the toss. But then a ridiculous twist. Foley was penalized for time wasting. The All Blacks took the scrum. Australia scrambled again and again as the siren went, but the All Blacks found space and went over in the corner.
The fickle hand of fate turned upon Australia in the cruelest way. A terrible result for rugby. Australia must now march in disbelief to Eden Park, where they have not won since 1986. The Australian crowd, coach and captains were speechless. But it was a bitter defeat.
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