“All we have done is buy a ticket to Auckland.”
Wallabies coach Michael Cheika went straight for the cold water at Optus Stadium on Saturday night despite his team running hot in a stunning 47-26 victory over the All Blacks.
Rated long-shots pre-game after years drubbings in Bledisloe openers, the Wallabies scored six tries-to-two to post their biggest ever score against the All Blacks, and to tally up the most points scored by any team against the All Blacks in their 116-year history.
Australia led 16-12 at halftime but the record-breaking win had significant context, with the All Blacks playing the whole second half with only 14 men due to Scott Barrett being red-carded on the stroke of halftime for a shoulder charge into Michael Hooper’s head.
It was only the fourth red card ever issued to an All Black player.
The Wallabies still had a job ahead of them to exploit their advantage and they did so ruthlessly, with a high-tempo running game that ultimately stretched the All Blacks too far and too often.
The Kiwis fought hard given their predicament, and they reduced their deficit to seven points with 20 minutes remaining.
But the Wallabies, led by halfback Nic White, did not relent, and the home side then piled on three of their five second-half tries.
White was voted man-of-the-match but there any number of Wallabies who could have fairly been acknowledged: including Marika Koroibete and Samu Kerevi, who set up a try for White with a Jonah Lomu-style run over the top of Beauden Barrett.
The victory opened the door for the Wallabies to win the Rugby Championship, if Argentina beat South Africa, and for the All Blacks to lose their world no.1 ranking, which they’ve held for a decade but will lose if Wales beat England on Sunday night.
The win was celebrated by a record Optus Stadium crowd of 61,241 and hordes of long-suffering Aussie rugby fans around the country on social media.
But understanding the peril of getting too carried away, Cheika was quick to point out the job is only half-done as far as breaking the 17-year Bledisloe Cup drought.
The Wallabies will go to Eden Park next week for the second Bledisloe Cup fixture and memories are still fresh in the Aussie camp of how their last win in a live Bledisloe Cup game in 2015 was followed by a heavy loss in Auckland.
"A few things went out way but I was really pleased for the lads,” Cheika said.
"They have been working really hard.
"I know we are all pumped and everything like that but all we have done is bought a ticket to Auckland.
"That’s what we did. Great atmosphere and great for the players to get a win but in the bigger scheme of things, we have got ourselves a ticket to go there and take the opportunity that is going to be given to us.”
Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper was a little more up-front with his satisfaction, saying the win was a timely dose of self-belief for a team who’d been working hard in recent times with little reward.
"It is certainly a nice hit of confidence and vindication of the style that we are playing,” Hooper said.
"We won’t buy too much into the (points scoring) records you’re talking about. We will buy is the ability to keep pushing as the game went on. To playiing the stuff that we are trying to work on as a team, in attack and defence.”
Cheika felt sorry for Scott Barrett but said referee Jerome Garces had applied the guidelines correctly around dangerous contact with the head.
The fact the All Blacks played the second half with 14 men didn’t detract from the win at all, Cheika said.
"Not a chance. When they have 15 on the field it feels like they have 20, so when they had 14 on the field it still feels like they had 17 or 18,” he said.
"They have threats, and you saw that. It’s not like they weren’t scoring tries.
"They have so much potency in their team we didn’t even talk about the guy getting sent off at halftime. Not a word. Because we know how powerful they are and that’s a sucker punch if you start thinking like that.”
The 21-point margin equalled the highest ever by the Wallabies, which happened in 1999.
The red card was a huge factor obviously but the Wallabies will take heart from the fact they were the better team prior to Barrett being sent off, and also from the ruthlessness efficiency to exploit the extra man in the second half.
The Wallabies led 16-12 at halftime after an epic back-and-forth contest.
The Australian side came out with clear intent to play up-tempo footy and the All Blacks were intent to slow them down with their dual open sides.
The Wallabies were making good inroads with the ball carries, though, and with Nic White supplying good service, the hosts made a few breaks.
Christian Lealiifano shot through early but could not find Kurtley Beale in support, but the Wallabies no.10 slotted a penalty soon after to take the first points.
The All Blacks are usually the side who strikes off sloppy play but the Wallabies made the most of a lucky break when Anton Liencrt-Brown didn’t collect an intercept, and the ball instead bounced into James O’Connor’s hands.
The prodigal son centre held the ball in one hand and held off a defender, and he found Reece hodge in support. Hodge raced 50 metres to score, much to the delight of a massive crowd.
The Kiwis didn’t take long to reply, however. A loose carry from Lukhan Salakaia-Loto gave the Kiwis ball in the Aussie half, and a nice grubber through saw a chance for New Zealand.
Michael Hooper beat Kieran Read back but was knocked off making a clean grounding, and Lienert-Brown dived on the loose ball.
The Kiwis went bang-bang, as they do, when Rieko Ioane scored in the corner after Dane Coles broke through the defensive line and fed Aaron Smith.
Smith appeared to pass the ball forward to Ioane but referee Garces had no problems.
The Wallabies went back on the attack, however, and they butchered another try - twice - when Samu Kerevi and Kurtley Beale both tried to go themselves near the line with men unmarked nearby.
Lealiifano added another penalty to re-take the lead and Australia managed the last ten minutes of the half well, with scrum dominance too.
Australia were on the attack on the line in the 39th minute Barrett became just the fourth All Black ever to be red-carded.
The second saw Australia immediately try to press home their advantage and they did.
The Aussies kept up with their ball-running and sought to find the extra space at the edge of the Kiwi line.
That’s where Salakaia-Loto was put into space to dive over in the 46th minute, in the corner.
The Wallabies attacked the same sideline on the next play and Samu Kerevi turned on the Jonah Lomu impersonation by barging through Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett before offloading to Nic White for a try.
The All Blacks didn’t give up, though, and Barrett scored in the 55th minute to draw within seven points.
But the Wallabies didn’t go into their shells. They defended stoutly and soon hey returned to the All Blacks’ red zone and kept hammering the Kiwi line, and Marika Koroibete scored when he picked up a ball near the line and dived over.
Reece Hodge scored via an overlap in the 70th minute but the Kiwis refused to lie down, and Ngani Laumape scored with eight minutes left.
But Kurtley Beale's late try sealed the win for the Wallabies.
Tries: Hodge 2, Salakaia-Loto, White, Koroibete, Beale
Cons: Lealiifano 2, To'omua 2
Pens: Lealiifano 3
All Blacks 26
Tries: Lienert-Brown, Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Laumape
Cons: Mo'unga 3