A REVITALISED Wallabies side has produced a stirring performance to stun the All Blacks 23-18 in the third and final Bledisloe Cup Test at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
In a season in which Australia’s rugby teams have been mocked during a 0-26 Super Rugby shutout against New Zealand sides, the Michael Hooper-led outfit stamped their mark as a force to be reckoned with again as they scored three tries to two in a deserved victory.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak against the world champions although the All Blacks retain the Bledisloe Cup with a 2-1 series win.
It made for a special night for the Australians, who wore a indigenous-inspired jersey for the first time, and now turn their attentions to the end-of-season tour of Japan and the United Kingdom following next Saturday’s hitout against the Barbarians in Sydney.
Rugby: Reece Hodge has belted this huge canyon clearing penality to seal a victory for the Wallabies.
A week of heavy rain meant it was never going to be a free-flowing spectacle but the Test was marked by some massive hits and a gritty Australian effort, making amends for the Dunedin game in which they muffed a kick receipt and allowed the Kiwis to pounce in a heartbreaking late defeat.
Reece Hodge, Israel Folau and Marika Koroibete were Australia’s tryscorers.
Hodge — who also kicked two crucial second half penalties, including a mammoth 54m effort with three minutes to play — pounced on a Lima Sopoaga error to intercept and run in a seventh-minute try from long range.
The outstanding Folau then crossed on halftime to continue his remarkable Test try-scoring record in 2017.
The fleet-footed fullback has scored 12 tries in international rugby this season, the most ever in a calendar year by a Wallaby, as he eyes the world record of 17 held jointly by New Zealand’s Joe Rokocoko and Japan’s Daisuke Ohata.
Koroibete, another successful NRL convert, scored out wide in the 57th minute following Hooper’s gutsy decision to turn down a simple penalty shot at goal and instead go for the All Blacks’ throat and five points.
It was indicative of the attitude of the two sides, with the Wallabies running the ball at every opportunity and New Zealand favouring kicking and not always doing it very well.
Australia had 61 per cent possession but just 37 per cent territory and racked up a huge 714 to 440 run metres win.
Michael Cheika’s men — who have improved to third in the world rankings — are also unbeaten in their last five games following twin wins over Argentina and two draws against South Africa.
“At halftime we said this game is going to come down to the last few minutes,” Cheika said.
“You’re not going to defeat the world champions with 20 minutes to go — it just doesn’t happen.
“I’ve always got it in the back of my mind is our duty is to bring back the trophy, which we haven’t done.
“As enjoyable as the win was, the disappointment of not winning the cup still resonates with me.”
New Zealand’s tries were scored by wingers Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane but coach Steve Hansen will be disappointed by a disjointed, error-strewn performance.
The All Blacks led 13-12 at halftime as they outplayed the Wallabies at the breakdown.
But Australia improved in that area in the second half and were able to maintain possession for longer passages than the visitors and build pressure.
Five-eighth Sopoaga had a poor match in his second Test start as New Zealand badly missed the brilliance of world player of the year Beauden Barrett (head knock).
Aussie blindside find Jack Dempsey was judged man of the match after another committed performance while Folau, Hooper, Hodge, Adam Coleman and Sekope Kepu were all impressive for the men in gold.
It was the final Test on home soil for retiring hooker Stephen Moore, while scrum coach Mario Ledesma is also saying farewell as he returns to Argentina to guide the Jaguares.
The senior lock was stretchered off the field in a neck brace and went to hospital although the initial reports were that he had avoided serious damage.
Australia 23 (Reece Hodge, Israel Folau, Marika Koroibete tries; Bernard Foley conversion; Reece Hodge 2 penalties), New Zealand 18 (Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane tries; Lima Sopoaga conversion, 2 penalties). HT: 12-13.