Six years after blowing a 17-0 lead in Dunedin, the Wallabies once again failed to deny the All Blacks’ wave of pressure under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in New Zealand’s deep south.
The Wallabies led 14-0 and 17-3 at half-time after a blistering start from Eddie Jones’ men, but the wheels came off right from the outset in the second half as the men in black dominated the breakdown and the scrum to go on and seal a 23-20 victory.
Without regular tight-head props Allan Alaalatoa (Achilles) and Taniela Tupou (ribs), the Wallabies’ depth was exposed as Englishman Karl Dickson rewarded the home side’s dominance and regularly pinged the visitors at the breakdown for not rolling away kick enough and at the scrum. Ultimately, that is where the Wallabies lost it.
A controversial decision to reward the All Blacks a scrum penalty following a clumsy Quade Cooper knock-on allowed Richie Mo’unga to step up and bang over the match-winning penalty. In his last Test on home soil before heading to Japan at year’s end, the classy playmaker didn’t miss.
“Obviously gutted,” said Tate McDermott, who became the Wallabies’ 86th Test captain and was given his jersey by former World Cup-winner John Eales ahead of the match.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to win it. We were chasing our tails that whole second half.”
The defeat was a heartbreaker for the Wallabies, who were completely written off ahead of the return Bledisloe fixture following their 38-7 loss at the MCG a week earlier.
Indeed, the Wallabies were $23 outsiders earlier in the week.
At half-time, the Wallabies looked like snapping their 8,029 day drought against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil when they took a 14-point lead into half time.
But bit by bit the All Blacks showed their composure and ability to accrue points.
At the same time, the Wallabies struggled to get their hands on the ball and miss the little moments.
Carter Gordon, who was fantastic in the opening half, missed a crucial penalty midway through the half when his shot hit the posts. At the time, the Wallabies were holding onto a 17-13 lead in the 60th minute.
Samipeni Finau’s try on debut and Mo’unga’s conversion gave the home side a 20-17 lead after 65 minutes.
Cooper’s long-range penalty saw the Wallabies level up the score after 73 minutes, but it wasn’t to be as the All Blacks broke Australian hearts once more.
“Well, it was no good. It’s a bad feeling,” Jones told Stan Sport.
“We should’ve won that game. We did enough to win that game but we don’t have the capacity to keep doing the simple things well.”
Jones, who addressed the Wallabies at half-time with an intensity and knowledge of how big an opportunity they had, bemoaned his side’s inability to seize the moment.
“We obviously got in trouble in the scrum, which cost us a couple of penalties. Then our support play dropped off. So they’re all things that we’re responsible for, and that’s the disappointing thing. We played with such intent and focus in the first half. The second half, we just couldn’t continue doing it, and we do have a capacity issue of doing the simple things well,” Jones said.
Jones will pick his 33-man World Cup squad on Thursday in Darwin.
Pone Fa’amuasili, who barely played more than 20 minutes per match for the Rebels this year, was one who helped his hopes of booking a ticket to France.
“It’s remarkable what he’s done, mate, Jones said. “A guy who was playing maximum 10, 15 minutes of Super Rugby and not very well. He’s come out there in a Test match against New Zealand, played 60 minutes and acquitted himself.”
He wasn’t alone. Tom Hooper, 22, had his best match, while Fraser McReight also managed to get on the ball and show his link play too.
McDermott and Carter Gordon combined well, while the playmaker took another step forward in the Test.
Andrew Kellaway was another who shone, delivering the type of performance that should confirm him in the No.15 jersey.
Matt Faessler, who was a late inclusion after Jordan Uelese (knee) was scratched following a training mishap, also made a strong impression after coming on early for Dave Porecki (shoulder).
The Reds rake only lost one lineout and showed the composure to suggest he belongs at international rugby.
The Wallabies raced out of the blocks to score in the third minute, as McDermott’s decision to kick for the corner from a penalty paid off as Marika Koroibete scored out wide.
Minutes later the Wallabies had their second, as Tom Hooper showed his strength out wide by bursting over the top to score after Mark Nawaqanitawase made a stunning break centre field to leave the All Blacks shellshocked. Gordon’s second straight conversion from out wide gave them a 14-0 lead after nine minutes.
The All Blacks managed to get on the board when Damian McKenzie slotted a simple penalty, before the Wallabies restored their 14-point lead when Gordon .
The Wallabies looked like they would score when McDermott darted to the blindside following a rolling maul deep inside the home side’s half. But some stunning last-ditched defence from veteran Sam Whitelock and Ardie Savea saw the All Blacks hold the nippy halfback up.
It was a big huge play and one that turned the tide of the Test, before the All Blacks squandered a late chance to post points before half-time.
Nothing went right for the Wallabies in the second half, as the cracks at the scrum started to appear and Dickson pinged the visitors for not rolling away properly.
Winger Shaun Stevenson immediately took advantage to score and Mo’unga converted to cut the margin to 17-10.
Dominating territory, the All Blacks continued to fire several shots and the home side took another penalty to cut the deficit to four as Leicester Fainga’anuku lost the ball under the posts.
The winger wasn’t made to pay for the blunder, as Finau scored soon after to give the All Blacks the lead.
While the Wallabies managed to level up the match, Cooper’s spilt chance on the fringes summed up his side’s dreadful second half and continued his nightmare career on New Zealand soil as the All Blacks scrummed for a penalty and, ultimately, the win.