Controversy reigns as All Blacks dash Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup dreams
In a rollercoaster season where every epic victory has been followed by a crushing defeat, the Wallabies had one gutsy hand on the Bledisloe Cup until a bizarre last-minute decision from referee Mathieu Raynal turned their historic 37-34 victory into a heartbreaking 39-37 defeat.
It was a terrible result for rugby and consigns Australia to a 20th straight Bledisloe series loss. Despite a season-best performance that was cruelled by an officiating decision that will be debated for decades, Australia now slump to their worst ever world ranking of ninth.
Signs were good from the outset. The Wallabies attacked the Haka, advancing their boomerang formation to combat the war dance. But when the kick-off came, New Zealand surged first. Wallaby lock Jed Holloway missed the kick-off in the smoke, a costly mistake compounded by two silly penalties in two minutes. Twice the All Blacks spurned three to chase five. And in the fourth minute a dozen black jerseys drove over to put them up 7-0.
In a season of bad starts, Australia had botched another one. All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo’unga was chip kicking behind the lines, creating havoc, while Beauden Barrett was launching bombs the Wallabies couldn’t grab. Ten minutes in, Australia had had just 10% possession. When captain James Slipper buckled on the first scrum, it became 10-0.
Australia finally got the ball and inched 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 the kick to put the All Blacks in their own quarter for just the second time all quarter.
Now the Wallabies rushed the line, fast hands on nice angles bending the defenders. Australia won a penalty, pulled it back to 10-3, then ran into the red zone from a free-kick. They went wide, a deft Len Ikitau tap-on created an overlap and Andrew Kellaway surged over, only for the try to be disallowed when a blade of grass was spotted between the ball and the turf. No try.
But the tide was turning. Australia collapsed an All Black scrum 12 metres out. Slipper didn’t want three. His side were in the ascendency and he wanted the points to prove it. He got them. In the 25th minute the gold rush wheeled right and Jake Gordon fed Rob Valetini on the fly. The Melbourne No 8 crashed through Sam Whitelock to score and square it up at 10-10.
Australia had their tails up. They were even on the scoreboard and winning the clinches and the All Blacks bench was busy with lots of soldiers suffering concussions, captain Sam Cane included. Valetini then did it again, knocking Barrett on his backside and stealing the pill. When the scrum held and Samu broke through. A kick-through set up a siege in the corner but after 14 steady phases the All Blacks spoiled and the chance went.
With it went the momentum. Tom Wright copped a yellow card, then so did Darcy Swain. Australia were down to 13 men. Still they hung on. New Zealand hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho surged over but, squirming underneath him, Gordon forced a knock on. It shook the All Blacks. Twice they knocked on cold with the line open to go to half-time 10-10.
With two still in the bin, Australia started the second half as they had the first – poorly. Within three minutes hooker Taukei’aho had crashed over to make it 17-10. Although Foley landed a penalty for 17-13, the All Blacks raised the tempo and dared the home side to go with them. They couldn’t. First, Mo’unga’s angled run evaded Foley’s tackle then, minutes later, Beauden Barrett kicked over the line for Will Jordan and suddenly it was 31-13.
All Black eyes were smiling but Australia refused to yield. Calm but conservative, Foley’s flat passes and flicking wrists now went up a gear and he put Kellaway away to make it 31-20. Then they teamed up again, going to the right this time, the zippy ginger wing crashing over for his fifth try in four Bledisloe games.
With 12 minutes to play, it was a four-point margin. An All Black penalty put it out to seven. But then Australia attacked on the skinny side, Marika Koroibete and Samu surging down the line and passing back and forth to get it back to 34-32. Foley the Iceman made it 34-all.
Six minutes left, benches empty and both teams breathing hard, the teams went eye to eye. The All Blacks blinked first though, Valetini stealing it on the halfway. Penalty Australia. Foley shook his head. Too far. Enter Nic White, bristling like his moustache, stepping up to kick it 50 metres and put them ahead for the first time.
But the All Blacks came again, won a penalty. But their ego outdid them. They refused the three and went for five. But it backfired, Australia won the ruck. But then a ludicrous twist. Foley penalised for time wasting. The All Blacks took the scrum. As the siren went, Australia scrambled again and again but the All Blacks found space and went over in the corner.
The fickle hand of fate had turned on Australia in the cruellest way. A terrible result for rugby. Australia must now march in disbelief to Eden Park, where they have not won since 1986. Australia’s crowd, coach and captains were speechless. But it was bitter defeat.