We begin our look at the Bledisloe Cup’s top 10 rugby Tests, with numbers 10 to six featured today.
10. Australia v New Zealand – Brisbane (2006)
In many respects this was not a great Test match, but in other respects it was.
Much of the pre-Test hype surrounded Dan Carter verses Stephen Larkham. Larkham was injured for most of 2005, which was disappointing because he started 2005 very well. Carter had announced himself, well and truly, during the British Lions tour.
But neither played well on this night, which was disappointing.
Australia’s scrum performed woefully. It’s just horrible that Australia was incapable of playing good rugby from 2005-2007 due to a horrifically poor scrum.
In many instances in this Test, Australia’s advantages were surrendered because of a poor scrum. It actually felt like New Zealand were being rewarded for knock-ons with penalties!
So why does this Test make my list?
Well in many respects this was the last big-match performance from the Wallabies.
The Wallabies used to win all the tight games from 1998-2003, and even won some games they almost didn’t deserve to win.
The All Blacks were superior in many ways, but the Wallabies were incredible in defence.
Stirling Mortlock was a champion in this game. He was so feared by New Zealanders that there was talk of moving Muliana to centre, just so somebody could handle him.
When you talk about moving the world’s best fullback to stop one player, you’ve given him a compliment.
Mortlock made an incredible break in this game, and offloaded to Mark Gerrard. Unfortunately Gerrard was isolated. McCaw chased him down.
That McCaw chased him down was one thing (an openside chasing down a winger), but that McCaw got to his feet and won the ball was an incredible moment in Bledisloe Cup history.
A year later Mortlock made another amazing break in Melbourne, and this time there was four players supporting him. The difference? Australia won that game.
The All Blacks won this Test because they had the superior scrum and the superior backrow. But they were a far superior side to the Wallabies, and the Wallabies challenged them greatly, punching above their weight.
The pace of this Test was incredible, and the defence amazing.
9. Australia v New Zealand – third Test 1980 (Sydney)
The only flaw this Test match had was that the second half couldn’t possibly match the first. I am reluctant to include this Test on my list because it wasn’t close, though it certainly was exciting.
This was the Test where Peter Grigg scored his first try with an incredible chip and re-gather – one of the best I’ve seen.
This was the Test where Mark Ella executed his around-the-body pass, which led to an Australian try.
The Australian backs played all over New Zealand. They were light-years ahead of them.
8. Australia v New Zealand – second Test 2001 (Sydney)
This is a sentimental favourite of mine.
The Australian side circa 1998-2003 had an incredible ability to win games that could have gone either way.
They were a far cry from the Wallabies of 2009-2010 that consistently blew good leads, and lost games they never should have.
This was the side that retained the Bledisloe Cup in 2000 with a John Eales penalty kick.
Then when they lost the lead to South Africa a week later, they were calm enough to work a penalty which Mortlock converted (and won them the Tri Nations).
I even think the 2003 World Cup Final is a good example of the Wallabies being in the contest when they had no right to be.
The All Blacks came back after half time and regained the lead.
We all know how this one ended. Eales had the choice of going for a penalty and attempting a try from a line-out.
If I recall the first line-out attempt was a little helter-skelter, but Eales tried it again.
The game was a wonderful testimony to his leadership ability.
Larkham’s pass to Kefu was outrageous, and Kefu put in an incredible sidestep, and with tremendous reach, scored the winning try.
If Frank ever meets Kefu (God willing), he will buy him a beer.
7. Australia v New Zealand – second Test 1996 (Ballymore)
After the third Test of the 1984 Bledisloe Cup series, I regard this as the most heartbreaking loss the Wallabies have ever had.
In some respects this game mirrors that second Test from 1988 that became a draw. Australia were coming off a huge loss after a tremendous All Blacks performance. People gave them little hope of winning.
But the Wallabies surprised the All Blacks with their aggressive approach (especially Frank Bunce).
Matt Burke scored what might be the greatest individual try scored by a Wallaby in Bledisloe Cup history, when he broke one tackle, sliced past the All Blacks backrow, threw a dummy to offset Christian Culler, and ran towards the line.
My lasting memory of that try was George Gregan’s reaction from behind Matt Burke.
Australia led 22-9 with about 20 minutes remaining, and actually added three more points to that score. How Australia lost this game, I have no idea.
Well I do have some idea. Andrew Mehrtens is an incredible rugby player, and so is Frank Bunce.
Mehrtens converted an incredible penalty from halfway down the field. At that moment it seemed as if the game would unquestionably be a draw.
Into overtime it looked as though Mehrtens would attempt a field-goal. Instead he caught the Wallabies napping and executed a loop play that resulted in an unlikely try.
The All Blacks scored 23 points in less than 20 minutes. This was as heartbreaking as it gets for Australia.
6. New Zealand v Australia – first Test 1996 (Wellington)
This is the greatest performance I have ever seen from a New Zealand side. Actually, this is the greatest performance I have seen from any side.
All Blacks coach John Hart once said you can argue that the 1987-1988 All Blacks were a better side, but the heights of this Test were never reached by that side.
The most astonishing thing about this game was that such quality football was played on a football field that was basically mud!
In very rainy conditions, the All Blacks passed the ball around with tremendous abandon, and ran in some amazing tries.
My favourite try of the game came from a grubber kick that was chased down and fielded by Jonah Lomu (who had a great game), who then offloaded to Justin Marshall, who sprinted down the sideline.
This was a team that worked in all dimensions. George Gregan would later remark that this was the best side he had ever played against.