'Replayed it hundreds of times': Hodge opens up on THAT Bledisloe kick

International
by Christy Doran

Reece Hodge admits he struggled to get a wink of sleep on Sunday night after missing a long-range penalty by the slimmest of margins in the howling wind against the All Blacks that would have cemented his name in rugby folklore.

Thrown the ball in the 82nd minute, Hodge had the chance to do what Wallabies captain John Eales had successfully done 20 years earlier at the very same venue in Wellington.

Unlike Eales though, whose after the siren kick from just beyond the 22m line gave the Wallabies a 24-23 win over the All Blacks to retain the Bledisloe Cup, Hodge's was from 54 metres out.

Moments later, the ball smashed flush against the right post and so began another five minutes of helter skleter action, where both sides failed to take opportunities to break the 16-16 deadlock in Wellington.

Speaking the morning after the draw, Hodge admitted the image of the ball rebounding against the post haunted him throughout the night.

"Last night wasn't a great start - it was a bit of broken sleep and I probably replayed it hundreds of times by now," Hodge told reporters on Monday morning.

Cruelly asked to talk through his thought process, Hodge said he was confident he had the range but turned to playmaker and regular kicker James O'Connor for some advice about the wind, which had played havoc for the goal-kickers.

"I was pretty confident with the distance, the wind was a different story," Hodge said.

"Any time you get a chance and you feel confident, why not step up and have a crack. It's a part of my job.

"You always get told to just aim straight down the middle.

"I kind of went to Rabs (O'Connor) for a bit of a heads up on which way it had been going in that second half. He said 'the wind was a little left to right'.

"But you can't trust the wind too much in Wellington, so I aimed it just inside the left post and it turns out that just outside the left post would have been better. But I struck it as well as I could have."

All that he could after swiftly striking the ball was look to the heavens.

"I was just praying when it was in the air."

In the end the trans-Tasman neighbours had to settle for a draw.

Hodge, who three years earlier landed a similar long-range penalty in Brisbane to ice a Test against the All Blacks, said that the draw helped ease the pain a little, particularly given that the equation remained pretty much the same with the Wallabies requiring to win two of the remaining three matches to snap their 18-year hoodoo and win back the Bledisloe Cup.

"The boys were obviously very supportive," he said.

"Obviously very disappointing for myself, every kicker's the same, when you have the chance to win the game and it doesn't come off you tend to beat yourself up a little bit, no matter where the kick's from.

"Probably lucky in my case that it was a draw and for it not to go from a loss to a win. Going into the match we had to win three out of the four Bledisloes to win the Cup, and now with a draw we have to win two out of the next three so the silver lining is that we've still got that shot.

"The guys got around me last night but it didn't help my sleep."

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In the moments after the match new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said that his team were "disappointed" and weren't "celebrating in the change-rooms".

Hodge, who came on just minutes before his pressure-cooker kick, said that pain was unlikely to dissipate any time soon, but added that they needed to channel their emotion ahead of next Sunday's second Bledisloe Test at Eden Park, where the Wallabies hadn't beaten the All Blacks since 1984. 

"There's still a lot of disappointment around the camp," the utility back said.

"We definitely had our chances to win that game. There's a lot of disappointment; you don't get over something like that within 24 hours, I think it's going to be lingering at the start of this week but our job is to prepare well for Auckland next Saturday. Disappointment will hopefully turn to excitement and anticipation ahead of game two."