Second half All Blacks comeback clinches second Bledisloe Cup Test
Fighting back from a 3-17 deficit 20 minutes into the game, the All Blacks emerged with a thrilling 23-20 Bledisloe Cup win at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
It was an effort that introduced three new All Blacks to Test rugby and allowed other squad members to experience the heat of the contest for invaluable game time ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Australia had cause to be satisfied with their effort after their 7-38 loss in Melbourne a week earlier. Still, the most significant benefit was undoubtedly to the Test exposure gained by the under-strength All Blacks combination.
Coming out after halftime, the All Blacks lifted their game, and three minutes into the half, after vital breaks by replacement Dallas McLeod and wing Leicester Fainga'anuku, they set up a chance for debut wing Shaun Stevenson to score in the corner, with first five-eighths Damian McKenzie landing a fine sideline conversion.
When they needed to lift their effort, the All Blacks called on scrum power which saw a try to Fainga'anuku ruled out when he lost the ball over the line. But a later scrum saw the Australians disintegrate and concede a penalty that replacement first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga landed to get the All Blacks back to 13-17 down.
Australian first five-eighths Carter Gordon missed a penalty goal chance to extend the lead, and the All Blacks built pressure again through the scrum. They used penalties to work their way into the Wallabies' 22m area and employed a lineout maul before the ball was released for Finau to score.
Replacement five-eighths Quade Cooper landed a 48m penalty goal with nine minutes left to level the score at 20-20. Still, with superior momentum, the All Blacks maintained their forward pressure, and in the 77th minute, Mo'unga was successful with a 45m penalty goal to ensure the win.
Finau was a revelation in the loose, and with lock Brodie Retallick forced to leave the field, Tupou Va'ai had three-quarters of the game to show his value. Stevenson was impressive in his work, while McLeod was strong with the ball in hand.
But for all the potential the new caps showed, there was plenty to admire in lock Sam Whitelock's allround work and breakdown turnovers. No8 Ardie Savea was also superb at the breakdown while returning to Test play. Fraser Newell was outstanding when coming on as a tighthead replacement.
Applying pressure throughout the first half, Australia enjoyed a 17-3 advantage at the break. They secured 63 per cent of possession and 67 per cent of territory while forcing the All Blacks to make 109 tackles to 41, yet despite running 319 metres to 280, and the Australian defence scrambled to cover breaks.
But the tale of the All Blacks' second half was seen in them coming back to claim 53 per cent possession by the end of the game and 51 per cent of the territory. By the end, the tackle count was 161 by the All Blacks to 160. And the All Blacks ran 553m to 451.
They scored tries in the second and sixth minutes to wing Marika Koroibete and blindside flanker Tom Hooper, resulting in consistent driving play through the centre and rapid ball transfer to the flanks. They could have had a third shortly before halftime to halfback Tate McDermott.
The Australian captain ran from a ruck close to the line and was tackled by lock Sam Whitelock which saw him twist in the tackle enough for All Blacks No8 Ardie Savea to get his hands around the ball before McDermott could roll over to score.
However, the inability of the All Blacks to string together regular play resulted in unforced errors, and penalty kicks not finding touch, a long kick that went dead, knock-ons and not straight throws to lineouts. They also conceded penalties at the first two scrums. All of which allowed Australia the momentum to keep the All Blacks pinned in their half for long periods.
The Australian loose forwards; Hooper with his strength on the ball, flanker Fraser McReight in winning turnovers and No8 Rob Valetini, influential on the charge. Prop Angus Bell featured early with solid runs, along with lock Nick Frost.
The Australians also tested the patience of the referee – with their constant huddles ahead of lineouts and towards the end of the half, they were penalised, but after getting into a good position, the All Blacks knocked the ball on when attempting to secure a lineout in the final act of the first half. And that about summed up their first 40 minutes.
Scorers: New Zealand 23 (Shaun Stevenson, Samipeni Finau tries; Damian McKenzie con, pen; Richie Mo'unga con, 2 pen) Australia 20 (Marika Koroibete, Tom Hooper tries; Carter Gordon 2 con, pen; Quade Cooper pen). HT: 3-17