Wallabies skipper feels draw 'a bit like a loss'
If Michael Hooper could have turned back time, perhaps he would have revised his decision-making in the closing stages of the opening half of last night's saturated Bledisloe Cup stalemate in Sydney.
Instead, as he reflected on a 12-12 draw that at least ended the All Blacks 17-test winning run, the Wallabies captain and influential openside flanker had to concede: "We're in the same position as we were two hours ago."
That means the Wallabies must win at Eden Park for the first time since 1986 in seven days to maintain any hope of reclaiming the symbol of trans-Tasman rugby supremacy at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium in October.
Denying the All Blacks an unprecedented 18th straight victory for a top-tier nation was scant consolation for Hooper and his teammates who, in the cold and wet light of today, might consider the Rugby Championship opener as a gilt-edged, lost opportunity at ANZ Stadium.
"It feels a little bit like a loss, the boys in the changing room are a bit down," said Hooper, as he pondered the Wallabies inability to set up Bernard Foley - the Super Rugby final's match-winner at the same ground a fortnight ago - for a deadlock-breaking dropped goal.
The reserve first five-eighth was in position in from of the posts in the dying stages, but the All Blacks managed to turnover the ball from a scrum to avoid what could have been their first loss to Australia since the 2011 Tri-Nations decider.
"It was mentioned (a dropped goal)," said Hooper.
Coach Ewen McKenzie was anticipating it too.
"It was a good position for that but in the end they turned the ball over on first phase. Dreams and reality," the coach mused.
In reality, had the Wallabies - who played a team reduced to 14 men for 20 minutes - been more clinical on attack and more pragmatic when turning down a succession of kickable penalties then they could be heading to Auckland on Thursday with even greater confidence.
Hooper and playmaker Kurtley Beale collectively spurned nine possible points either side of Wyatt Crockett's yellow card for offside - although the captain tried in vain to amend his decision to set a close range scrum, likely after instructions from McKenzie.
Sanity finally prevailed after the halftime siren but Beale, who provided all of the Wallabies points, hit an upright to preserve the All Blacks' 9-3 lead.
''We felt like we started to get the upper hand. They had a (yellow) card,'' Hooper explained.
''I felt we could get the ascendancy there. So you look around at the boys there and 'Swoop' (vice captain Adam Ashley-Cooper) and myself had a discussion about how we are feeling.
"We felt like our tails were up then and (we) started to get close. There were a few instances there where we were a few metres out. Different things could have happened. If you can get that try there it's a whole different game.''
McKenzie backed Hooper's initial decision to push for a try as he sat alongside his skipper during the post-match wrap.
"In the end ... you appoint game leaders to manage the game. They're out there feeling it.
''I send messages and the like but you don’t get to control it from the coach’s box. We talk about things and what we want to do.
"What we did say is that we want to go out there and take a few risks. It's no easy task beating them."
Since McKenzie started his reign at the start of last year's Rugby Championship he has witnessed losses by 18, 11 and eight points to the All Blacks - a draw was not a morale victory.
"We wanted to win the game. All our preparation is about winning. We don’t go out there to have draws ... it’s a bit of a hollow outcome.
“There is some good stuff we can take out of it, and it wasn't a loss; but we are out there to try and win games."
McKenzie was coy when asked if his team had closed the gap on the world champions.
"The conditions were a bit of a leveller out there but I thought we were in the game the whole way," he said.
"Last year we narrowed the scoreline but we haven't beaten them. For us to win the Bledisloe you've got to win two games. The formula for us, and the equation hasn't changed."