The dark clouds gathered and it started to rain lightly, but still the Wallabies could not break Dunedin’s 22-year losing streak against the All Blacks in this year’s final Bledisloe rugby test.
The All Blacks won 23 – 20 on Saturday morning after the Wallabies were ahead 17 – 3 at half time.
For the two coaches, Ian Foster (All Blacks) and Eddie Jones (Wallabies), it was the last chance to screen players for the last time before they name their squads for the upcoming World Cup next week.
Foster made 12 changes to the team that beat the Wallabies 38-7 in the final Rugby Championship test in Melbourne last weekend.
It almost backfired, because if Foster hadn’t sent up flyhalf Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith to replace Damian McKenzie (flyhalf) and Finlay Christie (scrumhalf), the Wallabies might have won.
It was precisely Mo’unga who coolly smashed a penalty goal through the posts in the 78th minute which gave the home team its 124th victory in 177 tests between the countries.
On the Wallaby side, questions will certainly be asked about the role of veteran flyhalf Quade Cooper, who was sent up in the second half to replace the much younger Carter Gordon.
Cooper kicked the ball on his own ten-yard dotted line (without too much pressure) when the score was 20 apiece. This led to a scrum and subsequent penalty which Mo’unga kicked over to seal the win.
Cooper makes a very big contribution off the field in the development of Gordon, but how long before he finally gives up his place? How many times has he not already, especially in his native New Zealand, not risen to the top?
The Wallabies, despite the defeat, were full of passion, courage and fire for 60 minutes and it was their best performance of the year. Jones now knows which players will be able to stand their ground in France, where the Aussies are in one of the easier groups along with Wales, Fiji, Georgia and Portugal.
Players like Andre Kellaway, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Marike Koroibete, Samu Kerevi, Tate McDermott, Rob Valetini and Tom Hooper will not let the team down.
But the Wallabies’ glaring flaws, particularly in the scrums and their depth, will continue to be under the magnifying glass.
For the All Blacks, the versatile Will Jordan, Shaun Stevenson, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Samipeni Finau and Ardie Savea made their mark.
However, there will be concerns in camp about the knee/leg injury suffered by Brodie Retallick.
Scorers: New Zealand 23 (3): Tries: Shaun Stevenson, Samipeni Finau. Goals: Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga. Penalties: McKenzie, Mo’unga (2).
Australia 20 (17): Tries: Marika Koroibete, Tom Hooper. Goals: Carter Gordon (2). Penalties: Gordon, Quade Cooper.