It was the game that had (almost) everything. Dubbed by many as “the greatest game ever played”, the Bledisloe Cup clash between New Zealand and Australia goes down in the rugby annals as one of the most memorable Test matches in history.
With the two sides facing each other this weekend in the Rugby Championship, it is a fitting opportunity to look back 19 years to a match few predicted would be anywhere near as close as the 39-35 final scoreline – in the All Blacks’ favour – given the utter bedlam of the opening five minutes.
Three tries conceded before they had a barely touched the ball was obviously not the start to the match the Wallabies – defending World Cup winners at the time – could even have dreamt of, let alone predicted. Many a team would have capitulated, but the Australians fought back in front of a world record crowd of 109,874 to draw level 24-24 at the break.
The All Blacks’s three quick-fire scores were indeed their only ones they scored during the first half. Tana Umaga, Pita Alatini and Christian Cullen each touched down to stun the Sydney home support, with Andrew Merthens adding three conversions and a penalty.
Once they got their hands on the ball though, the Wallabies were a dangerous force and responded in the eighth minute through the then inexperienced winger Stirling Mortlock.
Mortlock had only made his international debut against Argentina a month prior and bagged a second try 11 minutes later. The comeback of all comebacks was now most definitely on.
Chris Latham and Joe Roff also touched down and had it not been for a couple of missed conversions from Mortlock himself, the Wallabies may well have miraculously led at the interval. That they were drawn at 24-24 was still seen as nothing short of a miracle.
Mortlock’s early second half penalty did however give the hosts the lead at 27-24, but the All Blacks – no doubt stunned into action – responded straight from the restart and scored via scrum-half Justin Marshall.
Jeremy Paul’s try looked to have sealed it for Australia but the local hearts were broken when Jonah Lomu strolled over after a mesmeric final minute movement which secured the win.
It’s a match reflected on by New Zealanders as a wondrous triumphant comeback, and by Australians as a game they should have had no right to even compete for after the opening five minutes.
The ebb and flow nature, the twists and sheer entertainment throughout was, however, something which even the Wallaby team of 2000 can look back on with great memories as recounted in an ARUTV segment in 2013.