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Saturday Jul 29, 2023

Match Report: Australia challenge the All Black HAKA in extraordinary test

Australia have been defeated by arch-rivals New Zealand in a thrilling match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The test finished with an almost cricket score of 7-38 to the visitors on an occasion that caused ripples around the rugby world.

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Thanks to Eddie Jones‘ theatrics leading up to the occasion, the eyes of the world were set on one of the oldest international rugby rivalries around. Aiming to put pressure on the old rivals, Jones had warned of the New Zealand economy facing collapse – should the All Blacks leave Melbourne without a victory.

The Aussie coach need not have worried, however, as that prospect was all but extinguished after just the 2nd minute. Camped on their own 5m line after some early All Black pressure, scrum-half Tate McDermott received the ball off of a home lineout as they looked to set up a foundation to make the clearing kick.

The setup never came – thanks to McDermott taking longer to release the ball than I’ve taken to write this sentence. The 24-year-old was hit with an almighty thump by Scott Barrett which propelled him over the try line, with the ball bouncing into the grateful hands of Shannon Frizell to touch down for the All Blacks first try.

Following the missed conversion, Australia saw the faint glimpse of light that would allow them a footing in the game. The light came in the form of impressive Wallabies winger, Mark Nawaqanitawase.

Breaking the All Black line in superb fashion, the young Waratahs winger showed impressive speed and agility to slalom towards the All Black try line. Being pulled down just short, his teammates ensured that his efforts did not go unfulfilled as they regrouped and drove over the white line through Rob Valentini with a simple conversion from flyhalf, Carter Gordon.

The match continued in typical Southern Hemisphere fashion, with the ball being zipped fast and true as the open play enthralled fans in this mammoth test. The defensive work from both sides proved impressive, with turnovers common from both sides and impressive individual skills displayed in attack.

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The match started to unravel for the Wallabies in the 25th minute after Mark Telea stormed over in front of the posts with a sublime piece of poachers intuition. Unfortunately for Telea, this was quickly ruled out, after the quick tap that the Blues winger had taken, was deemed not to have had forward momentum when leaving his hands.

The momentum of the New Zealand attack was in no mood to slow down following this, however, as Cody Taylor steamed over in the 34th minute to retake the lead. With the Wallabies now clearly feeling the pressure, flyhalf Gordon sliced the restart giving the opposition chance to take the scrum on the halfway line.

This pressure continued to mount. After 21 phases All Black and Crusaders sensation Will Jordan collected the ball on the wing to score his 23rd try in just 23 matches. Heading into halftime the scores were 7-19, with the All Blacks well and truly in control.

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Halftime is the crucial period for coaches to get into the heads of their players. For Australia they needed a simple reset – get back into the game by doing the simple things right.

Jones’ words seemed to have struck a chord as the Aussies looked to dominate the first 10 minutes of the second half. There was a brief moment of optimism for the home fans as cameras switched around to show veteran halfbacks Nic White and Quade Cooper taking to the field.

This optimism was shortly extinguished when Wallaby replacement prop Taniela Tupou was sin-binned in the 53rd minute following a high tackle – which incidentally also left him injured.

The home side were left short on the field, and short on ideas when Caleb Clark stuck over in close quarters to extend the away side’s lead just a few minutes later. To add to the misery of the men in gold, the All Blacks struck into fifth gear as they continued to convert try after try.

Mark Telea was up first to put the ball down in the corner following a Will Jordan masterclass of drawing in defenders. Next up was possibly the try of the year.

Jordan broke the line deep in their own half, Scott Barrett drew the final defender, and Clarke streaked down the touchline before setting up Anton Lienert-Brown on the inside. As the defence rushed to catch up, the ball was switched to the right wing where Mark Telea used his electric footwork to leave Marika Koroibete in the dust to then draw the final defender and put Rieko Ioane in for a finish in the corner.

Richie Mo’unga was denied a try by referee Wayne Barnes in the 74th minute after a chip and chase was collected, but not before the All Black fly-half had pushed the covering Koroibete without the ball.

The match finished with the Wallabies defeated and Cooper apparently short of attacking options. Scenes following the match showed more comradery in the Australian player’s huddle than in the match itself.

With the World Cup just teetering on the horizon these two sides face very different prospects heading into the competition. The All Blacks have rebuilt a lot of the reputation that has been stained over the past couple of years, but for the first time possibly ever they do not head into the World Cup as favourites – possibly making them more dangerous than ever.

Australia on the other hand will arrive in France as huge underdogs without any real bite. Their structure can be seen at times, but without any real x-factor…a vital component to achieve the highest heights in world rugby.

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