Australia picked up only their second win over New Zealand in 19 games on Saturday night as the Wallabies took the final Bledisloe Cup Test of 2017 in Brisbane.
Here are five things we learned from yet another pulsating international rugby clash between these two Southern Hemisphere heavyweights.
Australia should no longer fear New Zealand
One of the big talking points in the run-up to this match was how the All Blacks have had the better of the Wallabies for so long that there is a fear factor in play when the two sides meet. This fear factor begins at the grassroots level of the game as New Zealand have dominated Australia in all age groups over the last half a decade or so.
One win doesn’t change this overnight. The All Blacks still own a commanding lead over the Wallabies in recent times and they can point to all the stars that were missing in Brisbane. A fightback has to begin somewhere though. The Australians needed this win for the international side, their Super Rugby franchises, and for the rugby union fan on the street.
Australia now needs to carry this momentum into the November Tests and – crucially they need to back this win up by beating their bitter rivals the first time they meet in 2018.
Only turnovers kept this one close
You can’t always tell everything about a game by the stats, but Australia dominated New Zealand in a lot of the categories the Kiwis usually win. The Wallabies made 494 metres to 266, they had 141 carries to 95, and they beat 26 defenders compared to 9. Those are crucial elements of the game where Australia dominated, yet they still needed a late penalty to secure the win because of one of the few statistical categories they failed to dominate. Turnovers
The Wallabies doubled up the All Blacks for turnovers conceded, with 18 to their 9. This category is why New Zealand has beaten teams over the last few years even when they are being outplayed as they simply do not beat themselves. When facing a team as dominant as New Zealand, opponents tend to try too hard, making simple mistakes and turning over the ball. Australia got away with it on this occasion, but only just.
Australia’s Indigenous jerseys look amazing
The story behind the design of the new Australia jersey that represents indigenous heritage and all the former indigenous players who have worn the famous green and gold is really cool. That the finished product looks so amazing is really just the icing on the cake.
Debuting a new concept like this can inspire a big performance. Now future Wallabies who wear this kit – assuming it gets given its rightful place in a jersey rotation – will know they have to match the result that occurred the very first time it was worn.
Reece Hodge should be the Wallabies kicker
I know that no fly-half will ever willingly give up kicking duties, but Bernard Foley just isn’t doing well enough from the tee right now. Foley struggled in the previous Bledisloe Cup kicking only 2 of his 6 kicks successfully. The 28-year-old fared none better on this occasion before Reece Hodge took over the placekicking duties.
We all know Hodge has immense range. His ability to hammer the ball from the other side of halfway has been seen before on countless occasions. That is why there was almost an expectation that his game-winning penalty would be struck like it was fired out of a cannon and sail over the crossbar, despite the attempt coming from inside the New Zealand half.
The Wallabies should use this game-winning kick to promote the Melbourne Rebel to the role of their first choice goal kicker. Foley can and will affect the game in other ways, but given his kicking issues, it is time to go in a different direction.
Beauden Barrett is the player New Zealand cannot afford to lose
The All Blacks have taken on all comers and usually come out as the winner. There is an expectation that New Zealand will win every game no matter who is on the team sheet. Until Saturday that had proven true. The difference in this match was that New Zealand were without fly-half Beauden Barrett.
Lima Sopoaga is an outstanding player. It can be argued that he hasn’t been given a fair shot at the All Blacks No. 10 jersey with a full team of first choice players around him. In this game, he was solid, but he did throw an early intercept that allowed Hodge to race 75 metres for the first Australian try. It feels that was a pass that the concussed Barrett would not have made.
With Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden plying their trade in France, New Zealand’s depth at fly-half is thin when the incumbent World Rugby Player of the Year is missing from the lineup. The pivot just controls everything so well and he has that extra gear in attack that makes him a sensational runner. It turns out that Barrett is the biggest key to the All Blacks streak of dominance.
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