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The Qantas Wallabies have put in one of their best performances of the season in narrowly succumbing to the All Blacks 41-33 in Dunedin tonight in the third and final Bledisloe Cup clash of the year.
The points tally of 33, including three tries, was the Wallabies highest ever score against the All Blacks in New Zealand and there were encouraging signs from Head Coach Ewen McKenzie’s team with superb performances from young centres Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani as well as a return to form for flyhalf Quade Cooper.
The high quality Test featured thrilling end to end action for 80 minutes and with more Tests like this, Australian sports fans will come flooding back to Rugby.
If the Wallabies can eliminate the handling mistakes and turnovers that gave the All Blacks the edge tonight there is every reason to be hopeful they can reclaim the Bledisloe Cup in 2014, when Australia will have the advantage of two home Tests.
Earlier scrumhalf Will Genia, playing his 50th Test, led the Wallabies out on to the superb indoor surface at Forsyth-Barr Stadium where soon after debutant Peter Betham, becoming Wallaby No. 878, sung the national anthem before a Test for the first time.
Dunedin was the site of the last Wallabies victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand, way back in 2001, when John Eales’ team triumphed 23-15 thanks to 18 points from Matt Burke.
If the Wallabies were to win their first match in New Zealand in 12 years they needed to start well and they did that with a pin-point kick off by Toomua resulting in quick ball and half breaks to fullback Israel Folau and Matt Hooper.
Play broke down with a small knock-on but from the scrum the Wallabies piled on the pressure resulting in sloppy ball to New Zealand leading to a penalty to Australia.
Cooper made no mistake sending the ball through the posts from wide on the left to give the Wallabies the perfect start at 3-0 after just three minutes.
It was already clear the Wallabies were committed to matching the All Blacks high tempo style with an entertaining game on the cards.
New Zealand had the chance to go level soon after but flyhalf Aaron Cruden mis-hit his penalty from near the halfway line.
The respite was only brief for the Wallabies. A minute later a clever run from Israel Dagg saw him set up a try to winger Julian Savea. This time Cruden was accurate from the left touchline and New Zealand led 7-3 after ten minutes.
The Wallabies went straight back on the attack but a simple knock on from captain James Horwill cruelled a promising opportunity.
However Australia immediately re-launched, with robust hooker Stephen Moore prominent with some powerful carries, and the move ended with Cooper potting a Dan Carter-like drop goal to make it 7-6.
The All Blacks hit straight back with a penalty to Cruden from 45 metres out from the kick off to put them back out to 10-6 after 18 minutes. And on 21 minutes he made it 13-6 with another penalty when Hooper was pinged for collapsing the maul.
But Folau then leapt high magnificently to take the kick off and Genia cleverly won a penalty when his pass hit Tony Woodcock who was lingering at the back of the ruck. Cooper landed the pin-point penalty and the Wallabies were back to 13-9.
No.8 Ben McCalman, who had been impressive, then made a mistake from the kick off but a stunning effort from the Wallabies pack won a penalty at the resulting scrum when they shoved the All Blacks pack backwards.
Great defence from McCalman and Cooper then saved a certain try from All Blacks captain Keiran Read. But two minutes later the All Blacks could not be stopped.
A deli cross field kick from Cruden found Savea who charged down the left hand touchline before passing inside to Dagg who stumbled but was still able to pop the ball up to flanker Sam Cane who charged over under the posts for a brilliant try. Cruden converted and New Zealand were up 20-9 after half an hour.
Cooper and Cruden then traded penalties before another superb move put the All Blacks further ahead on 36 minutes with a converted try to Cruden to make it 30-12.
But the Wallabies hit back on the stroke of half time after quick work from Genia saw Toomua cut through the All Blacks defence. The ball came quickly from the ruck to Cooper who found winger Adam Ashley-Cooper with a brilliant long range pass to send the Waratahs outside back over in the corner.
Cooper completed an exceptional first half with a successful conversion from the touchline to make it 30-19 to New Zealand at half time – the most points ever scored in the first half of a Bledisloe Cup match in history.
The All Blacks went further ahead early in the second half with Cruden landing a fourth penalty after Kuridrani was harshly penalized at the breakdown by referee Craig Joubert.
But Kuridrani turned hero on 47 minutes when he set up a try for Toomua. The All Blacks were looking dangerous when the 22-year-old Brumbies centre brilliantly intercepted a pass from Ma’a Nonu in his own half and charged down field.
Kuridrani was pulled down by the cover defence but he still managed to pop the ball up for his Brumbies team mate who went over outwide for the Wallabies second try. Cooper again converted and Australia were in range of a converted try, trailing 33-26.
Cruden them missed a kickable penalty to put the All Blacks further ahead but New Zealand soon had their fourth try. Prop James Slipper took the ball to the line in his own half and the ball was turned over by New Zealand prop Charlie Faumuina, who seemed to have his hands in the ruck.
Play was allowed to go on and the ball was soon spun wide to Read who galloped over to make it 38-26 after 53 minutes, with Cruden missing the conversion.
Kuridrani soon cut the All Blacks defence to pieces again after Ashley-Cooper had re-gathered a kick but this time New Zealand scrambled and prevented the try.
The Wallabies launched a threatening driving maul shortly afterwards from a lineout close to the All Blacks line but Joubert called it up despite the fact Australia were moving forward, much to Genia and Horwill’s frustration
A late penalty to replacement flyhalf Beauden Barrett made the game safe for the All Blacks at 41-26 and New Zealand looked dangerous shortly afterwards but Ashley-Cooper did well to win a penalty at the ruck metres out from the Wallabies line.
Australia could have closed the gap in the 72nd minute but the final pass from Cooper to the open Folau floated forward - Cooper’s only blemish in one of his best games in a gold jersey.
However Cooper made up for it moments later when he kicked across field to Folau who leapt high to take the ball near the All Blacks line. From the ensuing ruck Genia found Kuridrani who topped off his own impressive performance by battling his way over for his first Test try. Cooper converted to complete a perfect night with the boot – landing seven from seven.
The final moments were thrilling with both teams throwing the ball around right to the final whistle with the big crowd just wanting the game to go on all night. Replacement prop Sekope Kepu made a stunning break and a minute later Ashley-Cooper almost followed up a kick to score but in the end the margin remained the same.
The Qantas Wallabies now have a brief respite before departing for the United Kingdom where they commence their Grand Slam Spring Tour against England at Twickenham on Saturday November 2nd.
To check out the Wallabies full fixtures for their tilt at the Grand Slam CLICK HERE
FULL TIME SCORE
ALL BLACKS 41 (Julian Savea, Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Keiran Read tries; Cruden 3 conversions, 4 penalties, Beauden Barrett penalty) defeated QANTAS WALLABIES 33 (Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani tries; Quade Cooper 3 conversions, 3 penalties, drop goal) at Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin. (Half Time: All Blacks 30 Qantas Wallabies 19) (Referee: Craig Joubert [South Africa])