All Blacks and Wallabies draw first Bledisloe test
MARC HINTON IN SYDNEY
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The Wallabies have done it. Sort of.
For the second time in recent years they've halted a significant All Blacks winning streak with a dramatic 12-12 draw that will do wonders for their confidence, if not their prospects of ending an 11-year Bledisloe drought.
In a tryless affair at the cavernous Olympic Stadium the Wallabies rode home on the back of a surging second 40 that saw the All Blacks under serious pressure almost throughout, and forced to play nearly the entire last 10 minutes a man down after Beauden Barrett was marched just five minutes after coming on to the field.
The draw will be regarded with vastly different emotions by both camps. For the Wallabies it's the classic moral victory - a tremendous effort to end the New Zealanders' winning streak at a record-equalling 17 and deny them the 18th they craved to carve their place in the history books.
''It's a bit of a funny feeling really,'' said All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw afterwards.
For his team, the draw will be a bitter disappointment, especially that they couldn't quite nail the win they desired most.
But they could never get into this match in the second 40 and a yellow card in each half certainly did not help their cause.
On such a big occasion, it was deeply disappointing that the rugby did not match the high stakes or commitment from both sides. The rain that fell before and after kickoff didn't help, and both teams defended very, very well.
But in an error-ridden, stop-start affair it was probably appropriate at the end that the contest finished in a stalemate. As much as neither side deserved to lose, neither really did enough to win it either.
In front of a crowd of 68,627, the Wallabies showed they're making strides.
Undoubtedly Ewen McKenzie has some talent in his group, not to mention some depth and tenacity.
But the draw - matching their effort of 2012 in Brisbane when they halted the All Blacks' win streak at 16 - was not the result they were after either.
The All Blacks never really fired a shot in the second half, and weren't helped when midfield linchpin Ma'a Nonu was forced off midway through with an arm injury. The Australians will also rue the points they spurned late in the first half.
A pretty dour, and tryless, first 40 minutes - not surprising given the slippery surface underfoot - ended with the All Blacks leading 9-3, with prop Wyatt Crockett in the bin and the Wallabies probably kicking themselves for an inability to convert a strong finish into any points.
The New Zealanders had very much had the best of the opening half-hour, Aaron Cruden's three penalties to just one by Kurtley Beale a testimony to that.
But a surging finish from the hosts netted only Crockett's yellow card for a ''cynical'' ruck infringement with the Wallabies seemingly caught in two minds about taking their points three at a time, or in greater multiples.
McKenzie would have been happy with his forwards' effort. The scrum was solid, lineout mostly on the money and they were where they needed to be at the breakdown.
The New Zealanders had the better of the possession battle for the half, but the home defensive line held firm throughout.
Remarkably, the Wallabies had much the better of the second 40, though disappointingly neither side could find a way through the resolute defensive lines they were up against.
But they would have been rapt to keep the fearsome New Zealanders to just Cruden's lone second-half penalty and pick up three of their own to level the scores at 12-12 with just 10 minutes remaining.
With Barrett in the bin, the Wallabies looked the most likely to break the deadlock over the run home, and finished the match camped deep in All Black territory.
Barrett came back for the final minute and change and a brief hint of a Dublin escape act as on before the game finished on an error.
Two great defensive plays defined the All Blacks' second 40 minutes - both off kicked-through ball right on their line.
First Dane Coles and then Julian Savea produced faultless efforts to clear extremely dangerous situations. Soon after Savea was nailing another massive tackle to put Pat McCabe into touch.
In the end they saved the draw, rather than salvaged a win. Disappointing. But it could have been so much worse.
New Zealand 12 (Aaron Cruden 4 pens), Australia (Kurtley Beale 4pens ). Halftime: 9-3.
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