New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup with a last-gasp 35-29 victory over Australia in a Rugby Championship thriller at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
The start of the game was delayed by 20 minutes due to the lights having gone out at the stadium prior to kick-off.
The All Blacks extended their unbeaten run to seven games against the Wallabies in which they have averaged over 40 points per game. The Wallabies have now lost 20 straight games to the All Blacks on New Zealand soil.
Also, it must be said Nigel Owens had an excellent game and worked well in tandem with his assistants Wayne Barnes and Andrew Brace.
It was an incredible start to the game. Beauden Barrett kicked off with Sam Whitelock doing well to retrieve the ball as the All Blacks immediately went in to attacking mode. Whitelock recycled the ball and Aaron Smith spread the ball to his right to Damian McKenzie. However, against the run of play, McKenzie’s pass was well read by Israel Folau who intercepted to run coast to coast and dot down as the Wallabies took an early 5-0 lead with just 20 seconds on the clock.
10 minutes later, the Wallabies stunned the Dunedin crowd and all those watching around the world with their second try. From a Wallaby cross-field kick, Folau and McKenzie contested in the air with the ball coming off McKenzie’s hand before going out to touch. The Wallabies had the throw-in to the attacking lineout ten metres out. They set up the maul and Michael Hooper slipped Kieran Read’s tackle far too easily and went in for a soft try. Foley, however, missed his second conversion of the night which came back to haunt the Wallabies. In fact, Foley missed three easy kicks by his standards.
Soon after, the Wallabies had their third try completely defying the bookmakers’ pre-match predictions. After the All Blacks had knocked on, the Wallabies had the put-in to the scrum. Will Genia just managed to retrieve the ball despite the Wallabies being overpowered on their own scrum. Genia made a wonderful sniping break and made good ground before passing to Hooper who showed good timing with the pass to find Foley who raced through to cross the whitewash. Foley missed the conversion but the Wallabies still had a 17-0 lead.
However, soon afterwards, the All Blacks hit back. They too, had a five-metre attacking scrum having been denied a penalty try just before then. They were awarded a penalty instead but made the most of it, opting for touch and setting up the driving maul from the lineout. From the maul, Aaron Smith cleverly popped an intelligent reverse pass to Ioane who reached over. Barrett converted to cut the deficit to 10 at 17-7.
The All Blacks were completely annihilating the Wallabies scrum but weren’t making the most of their dominance with one example being when Smith knocked on at the back of another dominant five-metre scrum when they looked sure of scoring.
But, the knock-on was overruled as it was ascertained that Stephen Moore was unbound at the scrum. Thus, it was a chance for another dominant All Blacks five-metre scrum but they were denied yet again when just as it looked as if Ben Smith had dotted down, the TMO ruled he was not in control of the ball.
This time, the Wallabies had the put-in but Allan Alaalatoa was guilty of collapsing. The All Blacks unsurprisingly opted for a scrum penalty.
Eventually, the All Blacks made the most of their dominance at this particular set-piece. Smith took the onus on himself breaking off the back of the scrum and slipping Hooper’s tackle as he crossed the whitewash. The All Blacks finally had their try and deservedly so on the stroke of half-time. Barrett converted as the whistle was blown with the Wallabies taking a slender 17-14 lead in to the break.
The second half was a much more cagey affair with the first points coming only in the 63rd minute through a Barrett try.
But just when it looked as if the Wallabies might be dead and buried, Genia produced another moment of individual brilliance when he exploited a beautigul gap behind the ruck and finished clinically. However, Foley missed his fourth easy kick of the night in a shocking goal-kicking display that undid a lot of the Wallabies’ good work.
Soon after, the All Blacks hit back. Their third try was a great team effort as the home side showed a lot of continuity and patience. Switching the ball from right to left and back to right with almost the whole team involved, it was McKenzie who punctured the Wallabies defence when he slipped Tevita Kuridrani’s tackle before his basketball pass over the head of the last defender set Ben Smith on a clear run to the line. Barrett added the extras as the All Blacks took a 28-22 lead after 72 minutes.
In another twist to an enthralling topsy-turvy encounter, Kurtley Beale burst over after a series of powerful carries from the Wallabies forwards and a good, flat pass from Genia. This time Foley converted as the Wallabies took a slender one-point lead to set up a tense finale.
But never count the All Blacks out. From the kick-off, Read retrieved the ball. TJ Perenara recycled to Read who broke the line with a powerful surge and passed back to Perenara who shovelled the ball to Barrett who ran through to dot down under the posts.
In a Test match that had it all, the All Blacks claimed a last-gasp 35-29 win.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Ioane, Smith, B Barrett 2, Smith
Cons: Barrett 5
Tries: Beale, Genia, Foley, Hooper, Folau
Cons: Foley 2
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Curtis Rona
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Television match official: Rowan Kitt (England)