Reece Hodge has booted Australia to its first Bledisloe Test victory in more than two years, with a 23-18 win in Brisbane over New Zealand
It had been 512 days since any Australian professional side had bested a Kiwi side, with a 0-26 record in Super Rugby this season, and when Hodge made the Wallabies' lead five points with three minutes left, flashbacks of a Dunedin robbery were not far from the minds of spectators.
This, though, proved the vindication the Wallabies needed and where the senior players were keeping things intact, it was the fresher-faced Wallabies that might just strike some optimism into Australian fans’ minds.
A clutch try from speedster Marika Koroibete, tireless efforts from blindside Jack Dempsey and replacement lock Lukhan Tui and another impressive outing from Hodge pointed to some crucial vindication for the Wallabies’ carousel of debutants since the World Cup.
Execution was costly for the Wallabies, handling errors gifting the All Blacks, possession and scrums, in the first half hour, with Australia’s first not coming until the 35th minute.
As much as their fumbles hurt, a lack of intensity in the breakdown was just as painful, as the All Blacks backrow punished an issue that has lingered in these trans-Tasman battles this year.
A loose Sean McMahon carry was punished by All Blacks openside Sam Cane, as the All Blacks began to assert themselves physically.
Will Genia’s desperation, forced Lima Sopoaga into throwing a pass into Hodge’s hands, and the winger dulymade a 75-metre run to score in the eighth minute.
Their lead was negated just five minutes later when Rob Simmons gave away a dissent penalty, putting the All Blacks deep in their territory, with Waisake Naholo the ultimate beneficiary, levelling scores up.
When a 25th-minute Lima Sopoaga penalty flew 48 metres and bounced on the cross bar, going through, there was a sense the luck might just be turning black as well.
Where in Dunedin the Wallabies let New Zealand score just shy of half-time, it was Australia clinching that opportunity in Brisbane, with their first clean attacking passage putting Israel Folau over for his 12th Test try of the calendar year.
That, though, was hollow consolation for any Australian, knowing all too well the second half threat the All Blacks pose.
A patchy kicking performance from Bernard Foley, whose record is now three from 10 in the past two Tests against New Zealand, limited the Wallabies’ scoring power.
When Michael Hooper turned down two shots at the sticks deep in attacking territory, he turned the pressure valve right up and the Wallabies delivered, snatching the lead back in the 57th minute through Koroibete.
Hodge took the kicking duties and stretched Australia’s lead in the 64th minute, with a perfect strike.
When Foley missed a tackle on Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane made him pay with a try that threatened to give Australia yet another drawn Test in 2017, before smiling assassin Damian McKenzie missed the conversion, to leave a two-point gap.
Hodge’s second penalty in the 77th minute put the Wallabies five points up and hanging on was all that was left.
A last-gasp penalty gave New Zealand an all-too familiar chance to hit back, but milestone man Sam Cane knocked on and gave the Wallabies a joy they haven’t felt in a long time.
Rob Simmons was stretchered off the field in the 43rd minute in a neck brace and is set for precautionary neck scans.
Tries: Hodge, Folau, Koroibete
Pens: Hodge 2
New Zealand 18
Tries: Naholo, Ioane
Pens: Sopoaga 2