Australia ended a seven-match losing streak against New Zealand courtesy of a gutsy 23-18 triumph at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Picking up where they left off in the Dunedin Bledisloe encounter two months ago, the Wallabies nabbed the first try in the seventh minute when Reece Hodge intercepted an All Blacks fumble and ran 75 metres to score.
The visitors settled into their work, however, and equalised six minutes later as Aaron Smith’s brilliant cut-out pass sent Waisake Naholo in untouched, before Lima Sopoaga – standing in for the injured Beauden Barrett in the No.10 – landed two penalties for a 13-7 lead.
The Wallabies – playing in a unique strip that paid tribute to the Indigenous players that have worn the green-and-gold jumper – struck a vital blow in the final minute of the first half, Israel Folau’s speed proving too much for the All Blacks’ cover defence as he crossed out wide.
Bledisloe Cup: Australia 23-18 New Zealand. Wallabies end a run of seven defeats by the All Blacks to win in Brisbane pic.twitter.com/C340ImUllJ
— Rugby World (@Rugbyworldmag) October 21, 2017
Trailing by one at the break – and after turning down several gift three-point opportunities – Australia reclaimed the lead in the 57th minute when Marika Koroibete crashing over in the corner, with Folau again playing a crucial role.
Hodge took over the goalkicking and extended the advantage to seven points with 16 minutes to go, but familiar heartbreak loomed when brilliant lead-up work from Sonny Bill Williams and Kieran Read gave winger Rieko Ioane enough space to power 20 metres for a try with nine minutes left.
Mercifully, Damian McKenzie’s sideline conversion attempt curled away, before Hodge buried a booming 55-metre penalty after All Blacks replacement prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi blatantly obstructed a Wallabies defender.
New Zealand had a couple of chances to pull off yet another late escape during a frenetic final 10 minutes marked by bone-crunching hits from both sides, but Australia defended gallantly and the usually cool-headed world champs came up with unforced errors.
The three-tries-to-two result highlighted a remarkable turnaround since the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney, where the Wallabies fell behind the All Blacks 54-6 after 50 minutes, before ultimately going down 54-34.
The reaction tells the story!
— Christy Doran (@ChristypDoran) October 21, 2017
In a wonderful all-round team performance, Folau, Hodge, Michael Hooper, Adam Coleman and front-row trio Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio and Sekope Kepu were outstanding, while Sean McMahon came of age with a blockbusting performance in the No.8 jumper.
It was also a fitting farewell in front of his home fans for Stephen Moore, who replaced Polota-Nau in the latter stages in what was his 125th and final Test appearance.
— Qantas Wallabies (@qantaswallabies) October 21, 2017
Williams, who has been unfairly targeted for criticism from sections of the media and fans in recent times, was the All Blacks’ best, dynamic on both sides of the ball; a poor decision to grubber inside the Wallabies’ 22 with five minutes left blighted what was an otherwise monumental display.
[YouTube – Rugby.com.au]