Australia find their pride but All Blacks win an epic
NEW Zealand and a rejuvenated Australia said farewell to Colin Meads by serving up one of the great modern day Test matches in Dunedin – a match appropriately won by a sensational try from Beauden Barrett with just a minute remaining.
The entire game, which started with a tribute to All Black great Meads who died last week, showcased the very best of Southern Hemisphere rugby. There were five tries apiece but this was no basketball-style Super Rugby jamboree, the tackling was ferocious and the physicality immense. There was plenty of snarl and bite and every try had to be earned through individual or collective brilliance
We expect – perhaps unreasonably – such virtuosity week in week out from New Zealand but the revelation in the ‘House of Pain’ last night was the superlative performance from Australia just seven days after shipping 54 points in the first 48 minutes of their game against the All Blacks in Sydney.
Not only did they bounce back magnificently in terms of physicality and courage – you would hope for that given their proud heritage – they also continued to believe in their skills and creativity. The result was one of the most impressive defeats in rugby history.
In truth the fight back actually started in Sydney when the Aussies dug deep in the second half and somehow managed to score the last four tries of the game to give the Wallabies a smidgen of respectability and momentum as they crossed the Tasman Sea.
They were rather more than consolation tries, the manner of their scoring pointed the way forward. The best form of defence for this Australian side in particular is attack.
They were helped in that process yesterday by the encouragement of an interception try by Izzy Folau after just 25 seconds with the Aussie full-back latching onto a well telegraphed long ball from Damian Mckenzie to sprint 60 yards upfield.
Bernard Foley missed a non-too difficult conversion and, alas, for the Wallabies fly-half that set the tone for his evening. But for a very average goalking night from Foley – three missed conversions and a penalty – Australia could have been celebrating one of the most famous victories in their history.
Not that it stopped Australia making hay in the first quarter as their cup over-runneth. First skipper Michael Hooper exploded out of a maul from a line- out to score an unexpectedly easy try – Foley did add the extras for that one – and then Foley scored a cracker himself after good work from Kurtley Beale.
Remarkably, at 17-0 up after 15 minutes, Australia had scored 45 unanswered points in their last 45 minutes of rugby against New Zealand, a tidal wave of seven straight tries that must be unprecedented in All Blacks history.
Of course it couldn’t last and going into the second quarter New Zealand final-
ly got their show on the road with a well-taken try under the posts by Reiko Ioane courtesy of a nice nolook inside pass from Aaron Smith – and as halftime approached they pressed hard for a second.
Ben Smith had a scored under the posts disallowed after losing control as he went to exert downward pressure, but Aaron Smith darted over from the resulting scrum to narrow the deficit to three points going down the tunnel.
As a remarkable game built to a crescendo the narrative of the second half was remorseless All Blacks pressure countered by incredible sniping counter attacks from Australia.
It took until the hour for New Zealand to pull ahead with a well-taken blindside try from Beauden Barrett. That, however, was countered by one of the tries of the season from Will Genia who handled three times in a 22 phase counter attack deep in the Australian half before making another decisive contribution and sprinting to the line.
New Zealand responded with a top drawer try of their own also featuring 21 phases before Ben Smith rounded off the movement and Barrett converted. At 28-22 and with the wind in their sails only one result seemed possible, but Australia courageously moved upfield.
They patiently laid siege to the New Zealand line before Beale, enjoying one of his best games in the gold, pounced at the optimum time to score under the posts for Foley to convert. Less than three minutes left and Australia were leading by one point. If they could just regather the restart...
It was a big ‘if ’ and Kieran Read knew it was time to go for broke. He sprinted hard in pursuit of Barrett’s restart and got an outstretched hand to the ball to deflect it back. New Zealand were on the attack again, first building patiently and then attacking and handling superbly to work Barrett away for the match winning score.
As Read explained: “I said to Barrett just put the ball on the money and I’ll chase it and try and get it back. That’s what happened and it was just a case of us playing once we won that ball and having a crack and it came off.”
Wallaby coach Michel Cheika said: “The gallant loser thing is not on, we should have won. The last bit, that three minutes...we should have just shot that ball out, and got a hold of it and kept it at all costs.”
What a finish: Beauden Barrett runs in the winning try
Wallabies hope: Will Genia scores late on