In the heat of the moment, it is easy to feel everything is lost. Injustices taken personally as though we had been Bernard Foley, as he is asked to hand the ball over to New Zealand, we feel his hurt.
A hard defeat to take, but this is not the first, nor will it be the last time, that a team will be unjustly treated either by the referee actually applying the law, or by something unseen not being picked up.
For fear of counselling offices all around the world being filled up with forgotten trauma, I will only mention some previous ones.
Barnes not seeing a forward pass in 2007, Joubert seeing something that wasn’t there to award a winning kick in 2015, the 2021 Lions series – take your pick. Rassie sure did. From my hurt locker, the “hand of Back” denying Munster their first Champions Cup win.
These things can often be transformational moments, or they can be a crutch that causes the team to limp forward for longer slowly declining. What will this experience do for Australian rugby – do they look at the milk on the floor or look back in the glass and see it is still half full and how to fill it back up?
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The joke about Munster in the early 2000s, as they continually fell short, was how balanced a team they were as they had chips on both shoulders. Fans and the team fed off the injustices, often drawing from that well for key games, such as the miracle match against Gloucester in the 2002-03 season.
The fuel for that match would have been the Hand of Back in the previous final. That win set up an away match against Tigers at Welford Road and revenge on Back and all his teammates. But ultimately it only got them so far and would be a few years before they finally lifted the Cup.
Rugby Australia and Dave Rennie right now have a unique window to make some changes or build something. The fans will be eating the carcass of Melbourne for a few weeks, and the sheer mention will keep them quiet next week regardless of results.
They could use this chip, given to them by Raynal, to storm the Dark Tower of Mordor, but would it matter?
The Roar rugby experts Brett McKay, Harry Jones and Jim Tucker discuss Bledisloe I in their Instant Reaction podcast
At this stage New Zealand fans would just shrug off an Eden Park loss, and Ian Foster would thank Australia for the learnings he was taking from the experience, after all he is a student of the game who gets a lot of homework.
Sometimes the real winner is the person who loses. Because of their deemed injustice, the New Zealand Rugby Union did something in 2007 that they had not done in a long time: they kept their coach. Rightly or wrongly, fans were happy to buy into the lie that one froward pass had cost them a World Cup so effectively Henry was a World Cup-winning coach.
Because of this change, New Zealand were able to build continuity to land two World Cups. Without it Henry and a few others may have been cast aside carrying on the same process that previously had failed. I doubt Hansen would have been near the head coach job based on 2007.
The mistake that New Zealand made was thinking that fans would be still happy with continuity when there was no shared trauma to unite them. With a non-winning All Black team, comfortably knocked out of the World Cup in 2019, fans were not happy to keep going as was.
Foster, as a result, had at best a lukewarm reception, that has only gone south since COVID restrictions eased, leaving them out of the South Pacific. How far south has he steer the ship is unknown but rumour has it he is stuck in a storm somewhere off the coast of Canterbury, waiting to crash near Akaroa lighthouse. For some reason, the wind by luck just keeps him at sea.
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If we take the games in the official Test windows in the last year there have now been 11 games for both teams. New Zealand are sitting on 5/11 while Australia’s is 3/11, not great by any measure. A little bigger look and New Zealand are on 2/5 at home and 3/6 away. Australia is 2/6 at home and 1/5 away.
Fans are not happy with either coach, and many Aussies would happily see Rennie’s ship run aground in Port Phillip Bay by Melbourne, Australia’s shipwreck capital. With this hurt Rennie now has some time to make changes that matter, but only some.
In the recent boxing match Hamish McLennan, coached by Quade Cooper, beat Mark Robinson coached by Sonny Bill, in the Super Rugby TV belt. McLennan was heard whispering in Robinson’s ear after a knock-out blow that he would fight him for the rest of the money next year.
Robinson’s reply was heard as he boarded the plane home out of earshot something that sounded like ‘over my dead body, Foster has my back’. With that extra money Rennie can help suggest how that money should be used wisely.
In the Round 5 game of the we don’t care about championship both spilled a lot of milk, over 80 minutes on the Victoria pitch, a fitting tribute to Australia’s largest milk producing state. If it wasn’t for the fact it doubled up as the Bledisloe Cup Game 1, few would have cared as much. This was seen as a real shot for Australia to bring back the Cup. Instead, it’s time to take our glasses home and see how much is even left.
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New Zealand are now on a two-game winning streak for the first time since the three-game winning streak from last October came to an end. They gave up 10 and 18-point leads, similar to South Africa in Round 2. In both games they managed to dig out a win in the end, a silver lining on a long black cloud.
At times they looked great and at times they didn’t. The ease with which Australia pulled them back must be a worry, in times past 10 points was too much to give up to the All Blacks.
Their inability to get more than seven points when two up must be a concern, they are the running masters so should have found more gaps. Their glass is half empty, any bad result next week or in the November games will reduce the glass contents but unlikely to fill it, except maybe England.
Australia, on the other hand, can take a lot from this game. They twice chased down sizeable leads, they corrected their scrum issue well during the game, and they defended well when under pressure.
I am not sure if it is a mental thing but getting reds and yellows seems to improve Australia more than hinder them. Maybe Swain is the one who pulled the short straw and will take that role to stir his players, if only they could play like that with 15 men for 80 minutes.
This is not the first game they have dropped off in the final 10 minutes. They conceded two late tries against England in Game 1, two against Argentina in Game 2, two against South Africa in Game 1 and finally one against New Zealand. It is fine to be tired, but Australia don’t want to become known as a 75-minute team who will give up a try in the last few minutes. We don’t want the Welsh looking for bread from heaven.
I don’t know if it’s the result of the URC nations needing more games, but this year has been about A sides. Australia filled up their glass nicely over in Fiji. Depth is growing nicely, just in time for all the injuries they have suffered. Changing eight players from the previous week is a good sign when the result was so improved.
They have picked up seven cards in the Championship alone, New Zealand have had four. The one game they finished strong was Game 1 when they got no cards. In the November games they picked up five in three games. At a certain point it stops being the ref and starts being the team.
Overall, Australia’s glass is about half full, but looks much better than in December. Hamish’s boxing winnings coupled with improved performances on the field, Super Rugby looks like being a good builder towards the World Cup. In the November Tests, Scotland is the big one, who they are on a three-game losing streak, too.
Lose to Italy and their glass is smashed.
Hopefully Australia will do something with their chips, not just put it on their shoulder to go to Mordor.