Australia stun All Blacks in Brisbane thriller
Wallabies overcome fierce challenge from world champions before Hodge’s 53-metre penalty seals it for home side
Australia withstood a furious late charge to upset New Zealand 23-18 in a pulsating Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday, piercing a fresh hole in the world champions’ aura of invincibility.
Reece Hodge’s monster, 53-metre penalty just before the final whistle sealed victory for the Wallabies, who celebrated just their second win in 19 games against their exalted neighbours.
After trailing by one point at half-time, Australia fought back to claim a physical victory over the All Blacks, scoring three tries to two in a high-quality match.
Australia coach Cheika was beaming from ear to ear after the match and said: “I’m especially happy for the fans, they’ve supported us since the World Cup through lots of defeats to New Zealand and the boys worked hard for this one.
“I know we didn’t win the Cup, which is disappointing because I know how much we want it back here, but before the game I said you’ve got to fight for everything. I thought we did tonight and we were able to get the win.”
New Zealand, who had already retained the Bledisloe Cup after winning the opening two games during the Rugby Championship, dominated early and seemed certain to make it a clean sweep in Brisbane.
But the Wallabies, wearing a specially designed jersey to honour Australia’s indigenous players, dug deep in the second half to take the lead before holding off the visitors’ trademark late surge.
The Wallabies had come agonisingly close to ending their run of defeats against New Zealand when they conceded a late converted try to lose 35-29 in Dunedin in August.
But they stood firm to hand a second defeat of the season to the All Blacks, who will be going for their third straight World Cup title in two years’ time in Japan.
Although New Zealand have retained their Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup titles this year, they also drew their three-test series with the British and Irish Lions and haven’t exerted the same dominance of recent years.
As well as their last-gasp win over Australia in August, they trailed Argentina in the second half in New Plymouth and beat South Africa by a single point this month in Cape Town.
Slippery conditions in Brisbane meant both sides made plenty of errors, particularly early in the match.
The home side were put under huge pressure early on as the visitors controlled the match with some superb tactical kicking.
However, it was the Wallabies who struck first when New Zealand flyhalf Lima Sopoaga had the ball knocked from his grasp straight into the arms of Australian winger Hodge, who raced 70 metres to score under the posts.
The All Blacks hit back 15 minutes into the first half when an unmarked Waisake Naholo crossed in the corner. Sopoaga converted from out wide to level the scores, then put the All Blacks ahead 10-7 with a 46-metre penalty.
The New Zealand flyhalf, starting in place of the injured Beauden Barrett, kicked his second penalty when the otherwise outstanding Wallabies flanker Jack Dempsey was caught offside in front of the posts.
The All Blacks continued to look the more dangerous, but right on half-time Australia finally enjoyed some possession in the New Zealand 22 and fullback Israel Folau ghosted through the defence to score his seventh try in nine Test matches in Brisbane.
Bernard Foley missed the conversion as the visitors went into the break 13-12 up, and he also miscued a penalty attempt 10 minutes into the second half from 38 metres on the left.
But six minutes later, Australian captain Michael Hooper turned down an easier penalty attempt and opted to kick for touch.
The Wallabies spun the ball wide after a rolling maul sucked in the New Zealand defenders and Marika Koroibete crossed in the corner.
Foley couldn’t convert but the Wallabies were well on top and Hodge extended their lead to 20-13 with a penalty from almost 40 metres out with 15 minutes remaining.
But the All Blacks came storming back and after a superb Sonny Bill Williams offload, Reiko Ioane crossed out wide to make it 20-18 with nine minutes remaining.
However, there was to be no last hurrah for the All Blacks this time around as Hodge thumped his late, long penalty over the sticks to seal victory.
Cheika was delighted with the way his players continued to have a go at the All Blacks throughout the 23-18 victory.
“I think it’s the only way to put pressure on these guys. They’re so dominant in all the structured parts of the game,” he added.
“I felt like we had the fight in us tonight, we really wanted it, and so I trusted them to get the job done regardless.”
Cheika, whose squad will take a five-match unbeaten run to Japan and then on to Europe next month, was not getting carried away with the victory, his second as coach against the All Blacks.
“Mate, we might be improving but we’re still number three (in the world), having only just got back there,” he said.
“You can’t rest until you get back to the top. One win against the world champions doesn’t win you anything...”
Additional reporting by Reuters