Tuesday 21 November 2017

All Blacks' winning run halted

Australia 18
New Zealand 18

New Zealand's 16-match winning streak was brought to an end with a nail-biting draw against a brave and undermanned Wallabies outfit in the third Bledisloe Cup Test at Suncorp Stadium.

While there were no tries, neither side left anything in the tank in a physically and emotionally draining match in front of a bumper crowd of 51,888.

Play continued for several minutes after the final siren and New Zealand's Dan Carter had the opportunity to win the game and stretch his team's streak to a record 17 games.

But his drop goal attempt was wide of the mark, meaning an 80-minute penalty-fest between the two trans-Tasman nations would end in an epic stalemate.

Rank outsiders before the match, Australia started with intent and felt the benefit of the boot of Mike Harris (five from five for the match) to claim a richly-deserved 12-6 lead at the interval.

Taking advantage of some uncharacteristic All Blacks mistakes -- including a yellow card to Tony Woodcock right on half-time -- the home nation barely put a foot wrong in the first 40 minutes.

But turnovers began to creep back into their game after the break as a frustrated New Zealand moved to whittle away their advantage. At 15-9 up after Kurtley Beale's long-range penalty for the Wallabies, Michael Hooper earned himself a 10-minute spell in the bin following a late challenge on Aaron Smith -- and New Zealand duly capitalised.

Turning up the heat on Australia, Carter reduced the arrears with the ensuing penalty -- and then added another three points to tie things up on 67 minutes. Four minutes later, the All Blacks took the lead for the first time when Adam Ashley-Cooper spilled a high ball, allowing Carter to kick his sixth penalty from right in front.

But the Wallabies levelled again with Harris' fifth penalty as they pushed to send retiring skipper Nathan Sharpe out on a winning note. But it wasn't to be.

The Kiwis were incensed that Hosea Gear's 23rd-minute effort was chalked off after a superb counter down the left flank. Harris and Gear were charging for the ball and the former saved the day with a tap-down -- although replays suggested he may not have got a finger on it at all.

Any suggestions this was going to be treated like a dead rubber were extinguished inside the opening minute. In an indication of the intensity the game would be played at, an onrushing Ashley-Cooper charged down the second kick of the game -- and his pressure would have paid off had the ball sat in play.

It threatened to boil over at times in the first period, with Scott Higginbotham likely to face sanction for what appeared to be a headbutt on New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw.

Scorers -- Australia: M Harris 5 pens, K Beale pen. New Zealand: D Carter 6 pens.

Australia: M Harris; N Cummins (D Mitchell 66), B Tapuai, P McCabe, A Ashley-Cooper; K Beale, N Phipps (B Sheehan 70); B Robinson, T Polota Nau (J Hanson 72), J Slipper (S Kepu 40), S Timani (K Douglas 20 (L Gill 64)), N Sharpe (capt), S Higginbotham, M Hooper, W Palu (D Dennis 45).

New Zealand: I Dagg; C Jane, C Smith (B Smith 51), M Nonu (A Cruden 61), H Gear; D Carter, A Smith (P Weepu 59); T Woodcock, K Mealamu (A Hore 56), C Faumuina (O Franks 50), B Retallick (L Romano 67), S Whitelock, L Messam (V Vito 70), R McCaw (capt), K Read.

Referee: C Joubert (South Africa)

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