WELLINGTON: The All Blacks and Wallabies were both left dejected after they battled for nearly 90 minutes in a ‘wild’ thriller to relaunch international rugby after the COVID-19 hiatus only to end up with 16-16 draw.
There were chances for both sides to snatch victory in the wind and rain at Wellington Stadium as play swept up and down the field for nearly 10 minutes after the final hooter, but in the end they had to settle for a stalemate.
“That’s bitterly disappointing for an All Blacks side,” coach Ian Foster said while Wallabies’ mentor David Rennie said the Australians “had a chance but didn’t take it. We’re certainly not celebrating in the changing room.”
Although there were obvious signs of rust in the first Test for New Zealand and Australia in almost a year since the 2019 World Cup, as a showcase for a sport re-emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic the match was a gripping cliffhanger.
The build-up to the match had been dominated by a war of words over the future course of the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby and Rugby Championship competitions.
And there was little clue in the pulsating battle on the field that the Wallabies had not won in New Zealand since 2001 and had not lifted the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup for 18 years.
The All Blacks started as overwhelming favourites but they were a whisker away from seismic upset when, with the score 16-16 and the 80 minutes expired, a booming Reece Hodge penalty from 55m to win the match for the Wallabies rebounded off the upright.
“I WON’T FORGET THAT GAME”
That ignited a frenzied period in which play swept from one end the field to the other as both teams unsuccessfully attempted to find the winning points as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes.
“I won’t forget that game any time soon. It was wild,” said Wallabies captain Michael Hooper who was celebrating his 100th Test cap.
Rennie said it his Wallabies needed to improve the quality of their cleanout after infringing on multiple occasions at the breakdown.
“It just wasn’t good enough. It’s an area we’ll need to be better at next week. We gave away 14 penalties and a big chunk of those were post-tackle,” he said.
The one pleasing aspect for the New Zealand-born Rennie was that the Wallabies were not happy with the draw.
“I’m rapt with the character. What I like is seeing the disappointment with the guys in the changing room,” he said.
“There’s three Tests (in the 2020 Bledisloe Cup series) left and we’ve got to win two, so from that perspective it’s not a bad result but we’re certainly not satisfied with a draw.”
The All Blacks were forced to make 100 tackles more than the Wallabies and disappointed skipper Sam Cane said it was difficult to win from that situation.
“In Test matches you can’t be defending the whole time. It would be quite nice to apply more pressure with the ball and that will be a focus for us this week.”
After the All Blacks last year turned a 47-26 loss to Australia in Perth into a 36-0 rout in Auckland a week later, Foster was not fazed by drawing the series opener.
“I don’t think it puts us on the back foot,” he said, adding he liked the “don’t give up attitude” from the All Blacks at the end, although they made some sloppy errors.
That included Rieko Ioane botching a certain try just on half-time when he dived for the line and lost control of the ball before he could complete a one-handed finish.
For the All Blacks, who led 8-3 at half-time, tries were scored by Jordie Barrett and Aaron Smith with Barrett landing two penalties.
Wings Marika Koroibete and Filipo Daugunu scored the Wallabies tries with James O’Connor adding two penalties.