International rugby returned with a bang – and very nearly a shock result – as New Zealand and Australia fought out a 16-16 draw in Wellington on Sunday.
A near-capacity crowd of 31,000 at Sky Stadium was treated to a thrilling spectacle that ran into nine minutes of overtime, with only the width of a post denying Australia a first win against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil in 19 years.
Post-it note from Wellington
Jordie Barrett scored the only try of the first half and kicked a penalty with James O’Connor managing a three-pointer for the Wallabies as the All Blacks led 8-3 at the break. It could have been more but Rieko Ioane dropped the ball in the act of grounding it just before half-time.
Aaron Smith extended the lead to 13-3 early in the second half before Marika Koroibete and Filipo Daugunu crossed to level the scores with less than 20 minutes remaining.
A penalty apiece from Barrett and O’Connor made it 16-16 and Australia would have won it in added time had Reece Hodge’s long-range penalty not hit the upright.
After only the eighth draw in 167 Bledisloe Cup encounters, Australia improved their position in the World Rugby Men's Rankings by two places.
A first victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand in 19 years would have been the perfect way for Michael Hooper to celebrate his 100th test and new Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie's first match in charge of the team.
As it was, openside Hooper did become the youngest-ever player in test history to bring up a century of caps. He was aged just 28 years and 348 days on Sunday.
The record may not be his for long, though, as George North is only two matches shy of bringing up three figures in terms of international caps won. The Wales winger has 95 Wales caps and three British and Irish Lions caps to his name and is only 28 years and 182 days old.
If selected in Wales' next two internationals, North would replace Hooper in the record books in the rearranged Six Nations fixture against Scotland at Parc y Scarlets on 31 October.
Any other landmarks?
Hooper also became the fourth World Rugby U20 Championship graduate to play 100 tests for their country, following in the footsteps of All Black Sam Whitelock and his fellow Wallabies, Will Genia and Rob Simmons.
The match also saw five new U20 Championship and one World Rugby U20 Trophy graduate created, with Hoskins Sotutu becoming the 50th player from the U20 Championship pathway to be capped by the All Blacks.
What they said
Hooper: “I’m very proud of our team to fight all the way through. It was an enjoyable game, despite the conditions and despite the result, we are off to a good start with some things ... there’s a lot of belief. It was close – a kick off the post – but we’ll go again next week.”
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster: “At the end of the day we ended up with a draw which is bitterly disappointing for an All Blacks side but it's a start and we've got a pretty good marker of where we're at right now.”
The Bledisloe Cup series moves onto Eden Park this Sunday, where the Wallabies haven’t won since 1986 and lost 36-0 to the All Blacks on their last visit 14 months ago.