Ice-man Harris kicks Wallabies to victory
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Last gasp drama as Wallaby Mike Harris scored the winning points after the final siren against Wales (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
“We’ll love you if you hit it or miss it”. And with those words of encouragement from Wallaby skipper David Pocock, benchman goal-kicker Mike Harris hit his penalty shot to perfection to pip Wales 25-23 after the final hooter at Etihad Stadium last night.
What a tremendous 80 minutes of rugby we saw, going right down to the wire after the lead had changed 10 times.
Sure, there were mistakes mixed with moments of glory in an international played at a cracking pace, but what the hell. It was a genuine contest that did rugby proud in ideal conditions under the closed Etihad roof.
That man Pocock. He never ceases to amaze with his stamina to last the whole journey at full pace, pilfering, tackling, and with ball in hand.
Pocock leads from the front at all times. With due respect to the injured James Horwill, Pocock must remain at the helm when the Queensland lock returns, with Will Genia his vice-captain.
They have formed a formidable combination in the two tight victories over the Six-Nations Grand Slamming Welshmen to win the series. They have cobbled together the spine and patience in the Wallabies to win close internationals they would have lost in the past.
It hasn’t been Wallaby coach Robbie Deans, even though he sought those attributes. It’s the executive in the thick of the action who must show the way and they have passed with honours – even though Genia made more mistakes than usual last night.
When he’s on his game, he’s as good a half-back as we’ve seen since Nick Farr-Jones. However two grating parts of his game have surfaced.
Ignoring the ball just sitting there in the open after a ruck or scrum, and not delivering it swiftly, wrecking momentum.
And over-playing the short side, when invariably Wallaby support is bundled into touch, giving the opposition the feed. Wasted possession.
The first is inexcusable, the second should be a shock move only, catching the opposition off guard. I’m sure Deans will correct those flaws, and the really exciting Genia will return. There’s no greater sight in rugby than the little bloke at his best.
Special praise for Berrick Barnes. It was a huge 24 hours for the fly-half, starting with being at the birth of his first child Archie in Sydney on Friday night, returning to Melbourne with just five minutes to spare before the team bus left for the ground.
And ending with slotting five from six attempts from all over the park as well as setting up Rob Horne’s try by scything through the Welsh defence 45m out, giving Horne a perfectly-timed pass, and an armchair ride to the white line.
Another powerful attacking and defending role from Pat McCabe, Horne’s best game ever in a gold jersey, while Digby Ioane only knows one way to play rugby, and that’s at his vigorous best.
Adam Ashley-Cooper rarely makes a mistake at full-back, while the Wallaby pack, without being spectacular except for Pocock, held its own against the biggest pack Wales has ever put on the paddock.
But in the end it was the boyos who were gutted. Captain Sam Warburton just stood there stunned with hands on his head chewing his mouthguard, not being able to end the 43-year-long drought Down Under. No 8 Ryan Jones was on his haunches openly weeping.
They had come so close, yet so far. Even though they were off-side for most of the night, Wales played with passion, but made a big mistake leaving out giant lock Luke Charteris.
At 206cm (6ft 9) he would have retained lineout possession, despite appalling feeding. And at 129kgs made an impact in the rucking, mauling, and general play.
As for Mike Harris, he has ice in his veins. David Pocock started it, but all of Australia now loves the native Aucklander Harris.
That overtime goal reminds me of John Eales against the All Blacks in 2000 to win the Bledisloe Cup, Stirling Mortlock also in 2000 against the Boks to win the Tri-Nations for the first time, and the rugby league kick from the sideline in the mud and rain by Michael O’Conner to win a close Origin clash with Queensland in 1991, and Kenny Irvine doing the same to Great Britain in 1962.
Magic moments that are all cemented in the memory bank for all the good reasons.
So bring on the third Test next Saturday at ANZ Stadium between these two evenly matched sides playing entertaining rugby.
The added bonus? It’s an afternoon game, and let’s have more of them.