Dreamtime! Wallabies bury Bledisloe hoodoo
A ROARING crowd of 45,000 saluted his Blackout-busters at Suncorp Stadium yet Wallabies coach Michael Cheika shared the joy of a landmark upset by lamenting it came too late to earn the Bledisloe Cup.
There was no trumpet blowing from Cheika just a glow of satisfaction after a titanic second half thriller was grabbed 23-18 with the big minutes of mature resistance to repel a final All Blacks raid.
"I'm extremely proud but always in my mind I know the end game is to bring home the Cup and we've come up short," Cheika said.
"The really key moments were the minutes and the try before halftime because at the break we said it was going to come down to the last few minutes and we'd be prepared for it."
Skipper Michael Hooper relived his huge call to kick for touch not penalty goal to take the lead with 25 minutes to play.
"I felt like we needed to keep the pressure on and do something they did not expect ... the guys believed in the system and that we'd find the line," Hooper said.
Eureka. Thanks Marika. A penalty goal booted from a different postcode to Suncorp Stadium also delivered the dream through Reece Hodge.
Code convert Marika Koroibete's finish for the clutch try to send the Australians ahead against the All Blacks only gave the Wallabies something to fight for if they had the nerve to close out another thriller which went down to the final minutes.
In Dunedin just two months ago, the Wallabies digested heartbreak when the All Blacks stole it at the death but the big belief gained since then coursed through every tackle, little detail and decision when the acid came on again.
With three minutes on the clock, cannon boot Hodge stepped up and slotted a dream-maker from his side of halfway. It was 53m but even longer accounting for a heavy ball and the heavy atmosphere on a day where Suncorp Stadium had been soaked for 12 hours until the kick-off.
At the death, the All Blacks had a final chance but the scramble in defence was there, All Blacks flanker Sam Cane knocked on and a run of seven straight losses to the world champions was over.
In the Melbourne wet last year, hisses were directed at Hooper when he elected to kick to touch for a lineout drive rather than close the gap on England with a penalty goal attempt in a losing Test.
Last night, the skipper had a more mature, sharper side to deliver the detail after the surprise of turning down three-points from point bank range when 13-12 behind and 25 minutes still to play.
Everything that followed was precise, the little detail gains that Hooper himself had talked up on match eve. The lineout drive was a sure fist and earned a penalty advantage when the Kiwis dragged it down.
The Wallabies were clinical with the ball spun wide, Israel Folau stepped, veered and freed Koroibete so he could turn into his trademark torpedo to zero in low for the line. Try. 17-13.
Foley's goalkicking frustrated everyone. He was one-from-four last night and just three-from-10 in his last two Tests against the All Blacks.
Flanker Jack Dempsey was named man of the match for his strong running but Sean McMahon could equally have grabbed after one late turf. shredding run, his constant drive forward and defence.
The pro-Wallabies crowd was roaring when winger Reece Hodge latched onto an intercept and raced 75m for a 7-0 lead after just six minutes thanks to a ball-jolting turnover tackle by Will Genia.
It would have been nice to say it was the crowning moment of a pressure build-up by the Wallabies like the 2003 World Cup semi-final when Stirling Mortlock's runaway intercept signalled a memorable upset.
Instead, it was opportunism from a moment of pressure in a ragged, stop-start opening 38 minutes from the Wallabies.
The men in their bold indigenous jerseys made way too many early handling errors and the inaccurate ruck work, with poor cleanouts and isolated ball-carriers, made it a stuttering challenge.
It had a good deal to do with the 12 hours of non-stop rain in Brisbane leading into the kick-off but also the Wallabies being hellbent on playing too much footy in the slippery conditions.
The All Blacks seemed to kick it twice as often in the first half, played the better wet weather footy and seemed more prepared for a grind-pressure-points plan.
One sustained wave of pounding pressure in close freed up winger Waisake Naholo out wide while new five-eighth Lima Sopoaga made up for the lost ball that flipped into Hodge's hungry arms by knocking over two penalty goals.
Behind 13-7, the Wallabies needed something to ignite the show just as the All Blacks did when fighting back with a try on halftime in the Dunedin thriller of August.
This time, the Wallabies produced their most sustained passage when most needed, go wide, going strong up the middle through impressive Jack Dempsey and spinning quick ball.
It was skipper Michael Hooper's 5m gainline thrust that finally had the All Blacks in reverse. The sharp Will Genia release and Kurtley Beale's instant relay to Israel Folau put the fullback over, incredibly, for his 12th Test try of a bumper year.
Game on. At 13-12 at halftime, those restless in the crowd of 45,107 were suddenly transfixed.
The weather Gods heard the pleas too because the rain stopped and the precision to the Wallabies game lifted to match the intent, the fire and will to scrap in defence when the Kiwis came at them.
5 THINGS WE LEARNT ABOUT THE WALLABIES
1. THREE MINUTES OF IMPROVEMENT
All week, coach Michael Cheika and captain Michael Hooper were peppered with questions about whether the Wallabies had learnt from their late loss in Dunedin. Both said they had and it was the small detail things that paid off. The big defence at the end was superb and to limit the All Blacks to a single try over 80 minutes was the clincher.
2. HERO HODGE
He's not even a specialist winger but Reece Hodge offers so much in that role. He defends at times in the centres, he had the pace to finish a 75m intercept and his two towering penalty goals were reward for all the practice he puts in. 53m ... really? What a penalty goal to ice it.
3. JACK DEMPSEY
There were question marks on the NSW flanker when he came into the Wallabies squad after little rugby this year but Cheika knew what he offered. Other backrowers around can make the same number of runs but his extra athleticism and footwork means he's not running into full frontal tackles all the time but weak shoulders. Popped balls like his key off-load in the Folau try lead-up was typical.
4. WALLABIES DON'T WIN IN THE RAIN
This adds extra value to the enormity of the win because Australian sides just don't win Tests against the All Blacks in the wet. There was enormous resolve up front from tight five leader Adam Coleman and co. The Wallabies did improve when the rain stopped and it allowed them more flow to their passing game. Sheer willpower. And three-tries-to-one.
5. WHAT IT MEANS?
Of course, the Bledisloe Cup was already gone 2-0 but this was far from a dead rubber with the intensity from both sides. It's a signpost to bigger things after ending a seven-Test losing run to the men in black just like the 1990 Test win in Wellington. Dead rubber ... no way.