Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Draw ends All Blacks' run

Dan Carter misses a late drop goal attempt in the Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter misses a late drop goal attempt in the Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane. Photo / Getty Images

All Blacks 18 Wallabies 18
The run is over, but the All Blacks remain unbeaten. What to make of that? A draw is always a complicated business to make sense of, but it was probably the right result.

An incredible finish saw the Wallabies almost win before the All Blacks burst up field and set up Dan Carter for a drop goal that was inches wide. Incredible, a breathtaking finish but it shouldn't mask the fact this wasn't a great game until then and the All Blacks didn't play well. They were sloppy in too many areas and didn't deliver the accuracy and ruthlessness required to get the job done.

Were their minds already drifting to the European tour? Had they bought into the media and public certainty that the game was already theirs?

It didn't quite look like that. They gave everything. They were committed as they always are. They just lacked the polish. Really lacked it. Too many dropped balls. Too many bad decisions. Too many loose plays that failed to build the pressure or allow them to control the scoreboard.

They were, in truth, probably a bit lucky that the Wallabies had no idea what they were doing in the last minutes when they trundled towards the posts. If they had, they could have set for the drop and killed it there.

How must they have been feeling to then see the All Blacks spurn a penalty and charge upfield? As everyone waited to see whether Carter's drop goal had been successful, thoughts raced through heads.

What had happened in the previous 80 minutes? In a nut shell, the Wallabies had raised their game - got the best out of what is an ordinary group. The All Blacks, never really came close to their potential.

It was an arm-wrestle - an ugly brute of a game that had no flow or rhythm and it came down to cool heads doing the right things at the right times.

The All Blacks had more of those sorts of players, most notably skipper Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and Dan Carter. Those three tightened and directed in the second half to instil a calm that had been missing and a calm the Wallabies couldn't find.

They coughed up vital passes and worse, Tatafu Poloto Nau overthrew a critical defensive lineout and Adam Ashley-Cooper spilled an easy high ball. Both mistakes cost the Wallabies six points and allowed the All Blacks to nudge in front.

They should have steered the ship home from there, but the Wallabies, having promised a performance, delivered. Their forwards fronted, gave all they got and held up well.

They had a bit more life in the backs, too. Nothing brilliant just a bit more variation and directness which kept them going forward.

It was solid rather than spectacular but enough to force the All Blacks to dig deep. Seriously deep just to make sure they got the draw.

There was so little flow for long periods, mainly because the Wallabies were dominating possession and they couldn't get the quick recycle. The All Blacks worked both legal and illegal channels to slow things up - some of their gang tackling particularly impressive, but their tardiness in rolling away earning the ire of referee Craig Joubert.

A series of penalties for the same offence led to Tony Woodcock taking 10 minutes in the bin on the cusp of half-time.

The numerical disadvantage was a little hard to take - not just because it definitely wasn't a night, given the heat, that the All Blacks wanted to be forced to play with 14, but also because the Wallabies were lucky not to have been permanently reduced in personnel.

In an incident eerily similar to one on the same ground in August last year, Scott Higginbotham appeared to accidentally/deliberately drive his knee into Richie McCaw's head as both men were getting up from a ruck. The All Black skipper reacted by diving on the Wallaby No 6 and as they scuffled at the bottom of a melee, Higginbotham quite clearly landed a head-butt.

He can expect to be up in front of the judiciary for his sins - which will be of little consolation to the All Blacks. They were finding life hard enough as it was - their handling strangely errant and their discipline lacking.

They fell back into the habit of pushing passes that weren't really on. They didn't have the clarity or cohesion in their angles of attack and there was a general sloppiness to their work.

There were also, for the first time this year, casual moments that were costly. Aaron Smith threw a few scud missiles and had his first kick of the game charged down. The little halfback was having a bit of an ordinary night until, at full tilt, he scooped a bouncing ball with one hand, kicked ahead and earned his side a penalty when he was too quick for Michael Hooper who hammered the All Black No 9 late.

It was a justice for sorts for the All Blacks but they will be hoping to see a little more when Higginbotham is in the dock.

Australia 18 (M. Harris 5 pens; K. B

- NZ Herald

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