The Wallabies and the All Blacks each blow a miracle win
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Australia's Sitaleki Timani in action against New Zealand during their Bledisloe cup match at Suncorp Stadium. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)
So there the Wallabies were, near enough to the All Blacks 22 after a series of hit-up rucks and time up with the score level 18 – 18 against the all-conquering All Blacks. What do they do?
Another hit-up and get penalised.
Why oh why didn’t they use some phases before setting up for a drop goal? Especially as referee Craig Joubert had called out during these last hit-ups, “no sealing off!”
This was the warning that referee Wayne Barnes gave to the Springboks at Blomfontein a couple of years ago when they were protecting a lead against the Wallabies with time up.
It’s history now that the Springboks were penalised (as the Wallabies were at Brisbane) and Kurtley Beale kicked a long-range penalty (as he did at half-time on Saturday night) to win the Test.
But apparently the Wallabies wanted to force an easy penalty shot. They should have remembered that Joubert (correctly) is reluctant to award penalties in the last part of a match to sides who go deliberately seeking them if the defending side makes sure it doesn’t offend. He is not going to find a penalty, in other words.
This was his approach in the final of Rugby World Cup 2011 during those last dramatic 20 minutes when the French hit the ball up, like the Wallabies, without trying to make positive plays but in the hope of getting a penalty.
And this point must be asserted, Joubert was equally fair with his whistle when the All Blacks made their final desperate assault on the Wallabies in the 84th minute of the Test.
Like the All Blacks only minutes previously, the Wallabies were as disciplined as the All Blacks in their defensive stand. The All Blacks were forced to go for a deciding drop goal which was missed by an out-of-sorts Dan Carter.
After the match, a laconic Robbie Deans made the point, “to keep that All Blacks side try-less is impressive.”
Quite right. This is the first time, apparently, in over 100 Tests that the All Blacks have not scored a try.
They had several chances, notably Aaron Smith’s failed attempt to plant the ball on the base of the posts, Richie McCaw’s charge to the line after catching an errant Wallaby 5m lineout throw, and Hosea Gear’s trouch-down after Mike Harris just (and perhaps not) touched down a tricky rolling ball for the Wallaby try line.
The defence of the Wallabies was terrific. It gave the lie to Quade Cooper’s insulting comments (that have been given credence by anti-Deans rugby journalists) about a ‘toxic environment’ in the Wallabies.
Teams that are split and at odds with themselves and their coaches do not defend like the Wallabies at Suncorp.
Nor do they play with the spirit and courage that was able to unsettle one of rugby’s great teams.
Here we should give credit to the All Blacks for calling for a scrum with time up after they were given a penalty near their 22. McCaw decided he wanted to give his side one last crack at winning the Test, despite the fact that they were deep inside their own territory.
Another captain of any other team than the All Blacks might have, would have (I reckon), thought that his team had effectively got out of jail with the 18 – 18 scoreline. The All Blacks were clearly stuffed. Sweat was pouring from them. It was still incredibly hot and the ball was as difficult to hold as slippery soap.
The pack had conceded several scrum penalties to a Wallaby pack which, under the coaching of Andrew Blades, is now as strong in the scrum as any other pack in world rugby. A penalty against the All Blacks or even a short-arm penalty would have given the Test to the Wallabies.
Nathan Sharpe made the appropriate comment on McCaw’s brave decision:
“Credit to the All Blacks, they could have kicked the ball but they had a crack and that was great.”
It certainly was. The All Blacks came very close to pulling off a miracle victory. The fact they tried adds to their legend.
Despite the absence of a try scored, that no fewer than 12 penalty goals were kicked and both sides made many, many mistakes, this was a tremendously thrilling Test. The point of the penalties is that they punished ill-disciplined and technically poor play.
The huge crowd of 51,808 (who said rugby is in the doldrums?) roared and roared as the two teams went at each other hammer and tongs for the entire 84 minutes of play.
What people need to remember is that rugby union is not a neat rhymed couplet game like rugby league. It is complex, disorderly, full of anarchy with surprising twists and turns, a blank verse game like Australian Football.
There was the continual suspense of wondering whether the Wallabies resolve would somehow, finally crumble. Then towards the end of the Test there was the possibility of three different endings, a draw, a Wallaby win (most likely at the 80 minute mark) or an All Blacks win (likely at the 84th minute mark).
Back in 1988, also at Brisbane’s Ballymore, the Wallabies drew 19 – 19 with Wayne Shelford’s wonderful All Blacks side, which was unbeaten between 1987 to 1990, in front of 24,000 spectators. A year later that Wallaby side lost to the British and Irish Lions two Tests to one.
I reckon that, despite what happens on the Spring Tour of Europe which starts in a couple of weeks’ time, this latest draw with a mighty All Blacks side has set the Wallabies up for a successful Test series next year against the Lions.
Some rugby writers have talked about the Wallabies being a third-string side due to the huge number of injuries suffered in the squad. But this famous Suncorp draw has changed the perception of the rankings of any number of players.
James O’Connor, Digby Ioane, Will Genia and James Horwill are certain to be restored to the starting squad, when they are fit enough and if Genia stops playing silly-buggers and signs up on the generous contract the ARU are offering him.
Horwill will replace Sharpe. O’Connor and Ioane will probably play on the wing, with O’Connor being the back-up fly half.
David Pocock? In my opinion, he shouldn’t replace Michael Hooper, who Eddie Jones suggests will be a 70 to 80 Test Wallaby. I agree.
Hooper, incidentally, showed the All Blacks that they have to move McCaw (after his sabbatical) to number 6 to play the Jerome Kaino game New Zealand missed and make Sam Cane a starter to give more speed to the pack.
Pocock should probably follow McCaw to number 6, with Wycliff Palu and Scott Higginbotham vying for the number 8 position.
Incidentally, Higginbotham’s sly, Cooper-like kneeing of McCaw and his subsequent head-butt should have been spotted by the assistant referee as it was right by the sideline. Higginbotham deserved a red card for the incident in which McCaw (ironically) was the player who was penalised.
There is no room right now in the Wallaby squad, in my opinion, for Cooper. Even if he finally deigns to sign a contract with the ARU (after refusing to sign for four months a contract that was par with his previous extremely large contract), Cooper’s role at fly half for the Wallabies has been lost to Beale, who was terrific except for the missing drop goal play, and O’Connor.
It’s been said facetiously, I guess, that a draw in any sports contest is a bit like kissing your sister. It depends on who the draw was against. This draw, for the Wallabies, was more like kissing a hitherto unattainable female goddess.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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