August 23, 2009
THE Wallabies' Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup campaigns ended in the most excruciating fashion when Dan Carter kicked a 78th-minute penalty goal to win the most dramatic of Tests 19-18 at ANZ Stadium last night.
The Wallabies appeared set to win 18-16 until Australian winger Lachie Turner was penalised for not releasing the ball, enabling Carter to kick the winning penalty.
The home team had their chances in the final minutes when they charged at the All Blacks line, but it all ended when replacement prop Ben Alexander dropped the ball near the line, ending the game.
This was the most demoralising of losses for the Wallabies, as they led for most of the game, showed great courage and an exceptional defensive effort, but fell just short.
It was a messy, disjointed first-half and the Wallabies survived on mere scraps, but somehow they were able to enjoy a 12-3 lead at the break.
This lead would have confounded many, especially as the All Blacks had the ball in hand far more often than the home team, the Wallabies scrum was extremely shaky prompting tight-head prop Al Baxter to be replaced after just 30 minutes. Australia often seemed uncertain what exactly they were doing.
There were high kicks, but also enough attacking play to revitalise the 80,228 crowd. However the erratic skills affected the spectacle.
Ultimately the first half all revolved around the rigid nature of the Wallabies defence which on endless occasions kept the All Blacks, who were mustered well by their five-eighth Daniel Carter, well away from their tryline. So effective was the midfield defensive line that the All Blacks eventually found themselves getting flustered, prompting errors and turnovers.
But this did not mean that the Wallabies often found relief at the other end of the field. They were constantly perched in the New Zealand half. Their first real attacking opportunity did not occur until the 28th minute, and it was soon thwarted.
Instead the Wallabies had to rely on their occasional moments when they got into the All Blacks half, and the New Zealanders' frustration at the breakdown, which saw the referee Jonathan Kaplan providing a glut of penalties in Australia's favour.
Kaplan was clearly onto All Black captain Richie McCaw, while his teammates were harshly dealt with when they talked back to the South African referee, prompting them to marched down the field.
While the All Blacks were often the guilty party, several of Kaplan's decisions in Australia's favour were questionable, and the Wallabies, who were roughly dealt with in the previous two Tests by the whistleblowers, suddenly discovered the benefits of home ground advantage.
While Matt Giteau's precise goalkicking boot gave the Wallabies the scoreboard advantage, his play at five-eighth was also constructive. Giteau and Carter were the first half standouts, both directing play well, but around them other players suffered from nerves and bed hands.
The scrums were, as expected, all over the place, with the All Blacks getting the early ascendency on Baxter's side of the scrum. After Baxter was penalised for dropping the scrum in the 30th minute, he was replaced by Ben Alexander - but the setpiece didn't exactly improve dramatically.
In the second half, the Wallabies had to rearrange their attack when Berrick Barnes had to be replaced because of a neck injury, which saw replacement Ryan Cross go to outside centre, and Adam Ashley-Cooper take over at No 12. Then Drew Mitchell found himself at fullback when James O'Connor had to be replaced because of a corked leg.
Ill-discipline also bobbed up for the Wallabies at the wrong time, with Richard Brown, for the second Test running, heading to the sinbin in the 43rd minute after a dangerous tackle on All Blacks prop Owen Franks.
But the Wallabies were able to survive this dangerous period as they conceded just three points, even though just before Brown returned to the field, the All Blacks had a Carter try disallowed because of a forward pass. Then minutes later, Jimmy Cowan had a try disallowed for obstruction.
But in the 64th minute replacement back Ma'a Nonu looped around several forwards to score the opening try.