Australia’s 18-all draw with New Zealand (NZ) in Brisbane has shaken the usually composed All Blacks.
The Wallabies stopped the All Blacks from winning 17 consecutive Tests and equaling their own win record.
The All Blacks had gone unbeaten through the world cup and the Rugby Championship.
Several leading NZ rugby writers saw the Wallaby Test as an inconsequential stepping-stone in a run of victories leading on … and on.
But the injury-hit Wallabies out-played the All Blacks.
After the game, All Black fullback Israel Dagg complained: “Aussie were strutting around as though they had won.”
Coach Steve Hansen – whose father died days before the Test – said Australia was “stealing our players”. He was responding to a question about the performance of NZ-born Wallaby fullback Mike Harris.
Hansen said Australia had established SuperRugby sides without having enough players.
“It’s time you actually develop your own players and your own coaches,” he said.
ARU boss John O’Neill said Hansen’s comments were “insulting” and “ill-informed”.
He said NZ fielded players from the South Pacific islands, adding that “players will look for opportunities to play Test rugby”.
Therein lies a dilemma that troubles rugby, the balance between national loyalty and international opportunities—there are rules to restrict players switching countries.
In NZ, to switch nationality is viewed as a betrayal; in Australia it is viewed as a business reality, generally speaking.
Teams such as Tonga and Samoa show what an asset it is to have home-grown players. Even the globe-trotting rugby (both codes) star, Sonny Bill Williams, went home from France to play for the All Blacks.
Back to the Bledisloe Cup, Dagg was offended by the Wallaby attitude for two reasons. They are:
• If ever a draw was going to be thought of as a victory, this was the time. The injury-hit Wallabies were given no chance.
• Dagg knew Australia had out-played NZ for much of the game, despite last-gasp brilliance from the Blacks.
Dagg said as much.
“It was one of those games where we were on the back foot all the time.”
Even under-stated All Black hooker Keven Mealamu – who played his 100th Test – said his team mates felt hollow.
While some All Blacks could have responded more diplomatically, their touchiness is due in part to their high expectations.
By contrast, Wallaby fans were critical of their team’s friendliness with the All Blacks immediately following their two losses in the RC.
Wallaby captain Nathan Sharpe gave an insight into his leadership when asked why backs Kurtley Beale or Harris hadn’t taken a field goal when they had the opportunity to seal the match.
He said decisions on field goals were made by the backs.
“Whatever [call] they make … it’s the right call,” he said. “There will be no looking back and saying whether or not we should have made one call or another.”
Sharpe was made captain following injuries to three Wallaby captains over the last year. One of those, flanker David Pocock, is due to return from injury, but Sharpe will retain the captaincy for the four-Test northern tour.
The Wallabies play France, England, Italy and Wales.
Sharpe, 34, wasn’t expected to be picked for the Wallabies this season, but a long-term hamstring injury to fellow-lock, captain James Horwill meant he was called up for the Rugby Championship.
Injures to Pocock and his replacement as captain, Will Genia, led to Sharpe’s ascendency.
Horwill said he was overjoyed to watch Sharpe finish his career playing well and leading well.
He said Sharpe would “go down as one of the greats of the game”.
Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.
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