The Wallabies secured a deserved 27-19 win over the All Blacks in Sydney to clinch this year’s Rugby Championship title. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Before this encounter, the Wallabies had failed to emerge victorious in their last 10 Tests against the All Blacks, who have also held a monopoly on the Bledisloe Cup since 2002.
History was against the Wallabies, and yet from the moment the All Blacks made an uncharacteristic blunder from the first kick-off, there was a sense that this clash wasn’t going to go according to the widely expected script.
The All Blacks have held the Rugby Championship title since the competition’s expansion in 2012, but their three-year winning streak was brought to an end at Sydney’s Olympic stadium, ironically at a venue where the Wallabies haven’t enjoyed all that much success.
For the Wallabies, it was a case of replicating the same feat they achieved in the last World Cup year, when they clinched the 2011 Tri-Nations title.
Leading just 6-3 at half-time, All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith unwittingly handed the ascendancy to the Wallabies when he was penalised and yellow-carded for a high tackle on winger Adam Ashley-Cooper just after the restart.
Once again displaying his big-call bravery, Wallabies captain Stephen Moore opted for the kick to the corner, and when the ball was recycled from a lineout drive, prop Sekope Kepu popped up at first receiver and burst through the defence to score under the posts.
All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter reduced the deficit to just one point with a 51st-minute penalty before Wallabies scrumhalf Nick Phipps capped off an error-strewn performance with a yellow card for not retreating 10m after the visitors took a quick tap penalty.
That indiscretion coincided with Smith’s return, and the All Blacks required no second invitation to make their one-man advantage count as outstanding debutant Nehe Milner-Skudder rounded off a try to help take his side out to a 14-10 lead.
With the game having well and truly come alive, Ashley-Cooper expertly pounced on a well weighted grubber from replacement Matt Toomua to score in the corner on the hour mark as Australia regained the lead.
Momentum, and the lead, continued to swing one way and then the next as just minutes later Ben Smith put Milner-Skudder away for his second try in the corner, with South African TMO Shaun Veldsman affirming that there was no reason not to award the try as New Zealand went into the lead at 19-17.
However, Australia’s Nic White slotted a long-range penalty in the 69th minute, and the super sub then darted over for the match-winning try just moments later, enabling the hosts to celebrate a thoroughly deserved victory over an out-of-sorts All Blacks side.
The first real meaningful attack of the encounter saw Milner-Skudder go close, and under pressure, the Wallabies conceded a couple of cynical penalties, resulting in a yellow card to Kepu.
Carter duly converted the three-pointer, and while the All Blacks typically upped the ante, the Wallabies managed to rely on some brave defence and a bit of good fortune to avoid conceding any further points while Kepu was absent.
Another couple of noteworthy aspects from the opening quarter saw the Wallabies execute three turnovers, with David Pocock and Michael Hooper – starting in tandem for the first time – both proving to be a menace on the ground. It even inspired a cheeky Tweet from Samoan back Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, who suggested ‘if this was a nightclub, Hooper and Pocock would be stealing everyone’s girl’.
The Wallabies also impressed at scrum-time early on, and it was a dominant effort at this set piece that enabled Matt Giteau to knock over the simplest of penalties in the 27th minute.
Carter restored New Zealand’s advantage with a well-taken penalty soon after, while Giteau then missed an opportunity to draw the scores level as his penalty attempt struck the post just a couple of minutes later.
The Wallabies also butchered a golden try-scoring opportunity when lock Dean Mumm knocked on a ball that had been recycled in the red zone after a beautiful break from Israel Folau.
The All Blacks did return the favour, though, when they failed to convert a late charge on the Wallabies’ tryline just before half-time as winger Julian Savea was bundled into touch.
That sort of told the tale of a largely unappealing first half filled with a number of uncharacteristic errors from both sides, with the All Blacks clinging onto a 6-3 lead at the break.
All Blacks – Tries: Nehe Milner-Skudder (2). Penalties: Dan Carter (3).
Wallabies – Tries: Sekope Kepu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nic White. Conversions: Matt Giteau (2), White. Penalties: Giteau, White.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images