Bledisloe Cup: Australia beat New Zealand 23-18 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane after a disciplined defensive display.
Reece Hodge kicked a monster 53-metre penalty at the death of the 161st Bledisloe Cup, ending a run of seven defeats for Australia.
Rieko Ioane’s 71st-minute try brought New Zealand to within two points at 20-18.
Australia outscored the All Blacks three tries to two, yet it was their defensive effort that won them the day.
Michael Cheika’s team missed 11 tackles while the All Blacks coughed up 28 in Wayne Smith’s final game.
This was only the third time since 2010, more than 70 Tests that New Zealand has led at half-time but lost the match.
All three losses came against the Wallabies, who last beat Steve Hansen’s side in 2015.
However, New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup for the 15th consecutive year despite the loss.
The Test might have been a dead rubber, but for Australia, who last lifted the trophy in 2002, this victory is crucial for the country’s rugby moral.
Hodge, Marika Koroibete and Israel Folau, who was magnificent, scored Australia’s tries.
Bernard Foley had another poor day with the boot.
Waisake Naholo, starting for the injured Nehe Milner-Skudder, scored the other All Blacks’ try.
This was another impressive performance by Cheika’s team
Throwing away a 17-nil lead in Dunedin in Bledisloe II was galling.
The All Blacks threatened another late comeback before Hodge’s moment of magic, but not this time.
Australia’s fast start
Hodge intercepted Lima Sopoaga’s telegraphed pass and raced 78 metres to open the scoring and give Australia an early lead.
The visitors hit back inside the opening quarter when Naholo strolled in after collecting Aaron Smith’s skip-pass. Sopoaga levelled the scores with the touchline conversion.
Australia was struggling with their early set pieces but somehow managed to stay in the game.
Rob Simmons was penalised for entering the ruck from the side.
Sopoaga stepped up and gave his team a three-point lead after 25 minutes.
Tevita Kuridrani was stripped of the ball and after a counter-attack, the first-five eight extended the lead with his second penalty.
The pitch was slippery and the turf starting to cut up, but the Wallaby pack started to find parity.
Kurtley Beale was involved in everything good coming from Cheika’s side.
However, the centre knocked on in contact and stopping a promising attack.
The Queensland crowd had gone quiet; the tension unbearable.
With half-time approaching, Australia could not afford to let the Kiwis get another score.
Australia hit back before the end of the first-half
Instead, it was the home team who went 10 phases, pilling on the pressure with some quick ball and strong ball carrying.
Scott Barratt was pinged for offsides, but the Wallabies continued.
Australia’s handling was sublime and as a consequence, it led to Folau crashing over before the hooter sounded.
The fullback’s try was not converted by Foley, who missed from the sideline.
The five-pointer did reduce the deficit to one as the teams headed into the shed.
The importance of staying in touching distance with the undefeated Rugby Championship winners
If the Wallabies kept up with New Zealand, they could nick this Test.
Australia’s problems with restarts continued when they gave up a soft penalty at the beginning of the second-half.
Silly mistakes from set plays have killed the Wallabies over the past few seasons and continued to plague them against the neighbours.
Michael Hooper’s play at the breakdown won his team a penalty and they cleared their lines.
Simmons left the field on a stretcher soon after.
Folau started another attack with a wonderful offload to Koroibete. But the move broke down after another Beale handling error.
New Zealand did not have the best day; their kicking game and deep counter-attacks were nullified.
Their handling was sloppy and they could not break the gold wall.
Hooper roles the dice
The sustained pressure inside New Zealand’s 22 resulted in Hooper opting to go to the lineout and driving maul.
The gamble paid off.
Australia was patient, probing the Kiwi defence.
Koroibete took Folau’s delayed pass before scoring in the corner.
Foley missed his second conversion and third kick in succession but Australia led 17-13.
The game entered the final quarter with Australia getting stronger.
Off-the-ball hits and cynical clearing at the breakdown led to referee Wayne Barnes warning Kieren Read.
With 15 minutes remaining, Hodge extended the lead to seven after taking over kicking duties.
Ofa Tu’ungafasi hit Foley late. How Foley got up is anyone’s guess, maybe he did not know, either.
Thrilling Bledisloe Cup finale
Sonny Bill Williams had been relatively quiet. However, with time winding down, the centre started a move with a trade-mark offload.
Read collected Williams’ pass and sent Ioane away in the corner.
It was his ninth try in 10 Tests, thus establishing the 20-year-old as the world’s premier finisher.
Damian McKenzie missed the sideline conversion which would have tied the game.
It was a costly miss because Australia scored next.
Tu’ungafasi took out Beale near halfway and as a result, released the pressure, killing momentum.
Up stepped Hodge, the man with a Frans Steyn-like boot. The penalty was in front but 53 metres out.
No problem. The ball sailed through the uprights.
New Zealand had one final attack, went several few phases before losing the ball forward.
Game over, moreover, cue scenes.
Bledisloe Cup Final score: Australia 23 (12) New Zealand 18 (13)
Tries – Hodge, Folau, Koroibete
Pen – Hodge (2)
Con – Foley
Tries – Naholo, Ioane
Pen – Sopoaga (2)
Con – Sopoaga
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Ref 1: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant Ref 2: Egon Seconds (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
15 Israel Folau, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 2 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Henry Speight.
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 David Havili.