Neither the Wallabies nor the All Blacks deserved to lose in Sydney, but neither deserved to win, writes MARK KEOHANE.
The All Blacks remain unbeaten in 18 matches but the 12-12 draw means these magnificent All Blacks have a share of the 17 successive Test win record with another group of All Blacks from yesteryear and also Nick Mallett’s 1998 Springboks.
A few years back, Richie McCaw’s All Blacks won 16 in succession and drew 18-18 with the Wallabies in Brisbane. Before that, the All Blacks won 15 in succession before losing to the Wallabies in the last minute in Hong Kong. And in 2006 the All Blacks won 15 in succession before losing by a point to a last-gasp André Pretorius penalty in Rustenburg.
McCaw’s All Blacks of 2014 were motivated to get to 18. They were prepared for an improved Wallabies outfit and the draw was certainly not because of complacency or because the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship had already been decided.
The effort in Sydney was the best the All Blacks could produce on the night and credit has to go to Ewen McKenzie’s Wallabies because the effort was never good enough for a victory.
The wet conditions complicated an expansive approach but they should have favoured the hyped All Blacks superiority among the forwards.
The hype never translated to on-field dominance. New Zealanders may feel South African referee Jaco Peyper did their team no favours. They’d have a point but Pyper was not the reason the All Blacks never looked like scoring a try. Pyper was also not the reason the Wallabies failed to ever threaten the All Blacks' tryline.
It was a strange kind of Test match. Neither team wanted for motivation but the intensity in attack was never a match for the outstanding defensive effort of both teams.
The All Blacks have been the best team in the world since the end of 2009 but McCaw’s experienced and settled squad had the look of players who are maintaining standards more than adding to them.
Australia certainly have closed the gap since the 2011 World Cup, but playing in Auckland next weekend will be a greater measurement of the Australian improvement.
The Wallabies have traditionally done well in Sydney and they certainly looked no inferior as a forward unit or in the contact situations.
There was not much between the teams, just as there was not much between the Super Rugby finalists the Waratahs and the Crusaders. The Tahs, for purposes of record, won by a point in Sydney through a last-minute penalty.
I picked the Wallabies to shade it because of home-ground advantage and the draw will inspire a belief within a group that is on the rise.
The All Blacks showed their quality to not lose, despite playing 20 minutes with 14 men and they did not lack for fight.
But they are no longer striding ahead of the rest. It will still take an outstanding effort from one of Australia and South Africa to win in New Zealand this year, but the Springboks will believe victory to be possible at Ellis Park.
The result served the context of the Championship an All Blacks' win could well have proved the defining moment of the Championship.
More importantly it has served the game because rugby union needs the All Blacks to be possible losers and not probable winners.
Australia, for so long, have been a no-show against New Zealand. I believe that has changed and that’s the most wonderful thing to come from the stalemate.
Most predicted this year’s Rugby Championship to be the closest in the three-year history and after the first round it proved accurate.
McKenzie will feel this one got away as the momentum was with Australia in the second half and they were playing at home. But he will also be honest enough to admit his team didn’t do enough to win.
New Zealand will bemoan missing out on the record but they will acknowledge Australia fronted physically and were their equal in Sydney. They too never did enough to win.
As McCaw said afterwards … it all felt rather strange. And it all looked rather strange because it never looked like one team was ever going to pull away and seal the deal.
Test rugby should be about that kind of doubt and once again we had a Test match involving New Zealand and Ausralia – and not a mismatch.
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