The Wallabies have signed off their home season with a rousing 23-18 victory over the All Blacks in Brisbane.
Despite the Bledisloe already being lost, the Aussies dug deep in the face of some brutal defence to get the result. So, how did it all play out?
(*The following is unapologetically pro-Wallabies.)
1. Absolute scenes at Suncorp
It might have been a dead rubber, but try telling that to the 23 men in gold. For long periods in Brisbane, the Wallabies looked like they were barely clinging on.
The wet conditions caused all sorts of chaos early on. The Wallabies coughed up twice as many handling errors as the All Blacks, with the visitors dominating the contact. Things looked ominous, but they’ve learnt to hang tough. The missed tackle count ended up with 11 by the Wallabies, and a massive 28 by the All Blacks.
Australia had won just one of the previous 18 Bledisloe encounters. This was a victory to cherish. The pride is back in the jersey. If you can’t get excited by the reactions of the players at full-time, this isn’t the game for you.
2. Bernard’s boot wayward, but Reece steps up
The longer the match went on, the more it looked like we were in for a repeat of Dunedin, when Foley’s errant boot proved the difference.
Foley’s kicking woes resurfaced here, but Reece Hodge picked up the slack, slotting two long range penalties when it mattered. It was Hodge who sparked proceedings with an intercept try in the first half. More importantly, he backed it up with a 54-metre bomb on 78 minutes. His all-round contribution is improving every week.
3. Cheika’s rotation policy is bearing fruit
2017 is a year in which the Wallabies have graduated from hopeless to promising. There’s more to do, but the vibe around this squad is a far cry from the abomination that was the Super Rugby season.
Credit must be given to Michael Cheika for his commitment to developing a genuine squad. This year has seen the emergence of Lukhan Tui, Jack Dempsey, Jordan Uelese, Izack Rodda, Tetera Faulkner, Ned Hanigan, and the soon to be capped Izaia Perese. Whether or not they turn out to be world beaters, they’ve shown ticker far beyond their years.
4. Shout outs all round
It’s all positive vibes this week. So here’s a tip of the cap to some special contributions.
– Sean McMahon for his eight tackle busts, including an irrepressible 40-metre gallop. He’ll be a huge loss to Australian rugby when he heads to Japan.
– Israel Folau for his nine tackle busts and four offloads, not to mention his 12th try of the year. He keeps raising the bar.
– Aaron Smith’s bullet pass to Naholo for the All Blacks’ opening try was a thing of beauty. There aren’t many in the game who can top his service.
– Sonny Bill Williams has been criticised for being past his best, but the man still managed five tackle busts and four offloads, one of which set up Rieko Ioane’s try. Just try and keep him out of the game.
– Michael Hooper for another tireless display. Even when he’s not making his usual impact with ball in hand, he pops up everywhere with important tackles and work at the breakdown. He’s growing into the captaincy nicely.
– Marika Koroibete was quiet for most of the game, but he’s been a revelation on the wing since his debut. He’s got a knack for coming up with clutch plays, whether it be big tackles or tidy finishes. Against the All Blacks, he scored his fourth try in as many games for the Wallabies.
5. A quick word on world rankings
One win doesn’t change the fact that the Wallabies are a work in progress. But those who claim we’re lucky to be ranked third will be markedly less chatty this week.
It bears repeating that the Wallabies just finished second in the Rugby Championship. They’ve now beaten the best team in the world. And they’ve got greater squad depth than we’ve seen for some time.
Fun fact: the world’s second-ranked team, England, haven’t had to face the All Blacks since 2014 and aren’t due to face them again until November 2018. That’ll make it a full four years (and 12 Bledisloe matches) between drinks for England and New Zealand.
That’s a pretty wild anomaly for two of the world’s best teams. And if you’re a Wallabies fan, you can feel a lot better about our standing in the game. Bring on the Spring Tour!