All Blacks: Stodgy draw ends record hopes

By Patrick McKendry of APNZ in Sydney

AUSTRALIA 12
NEW ZEALAND 12

A test of punch and counter-punch, trench warfare and a fair bit of bravery by both sides.

In the end it was a draw, a result which robs the All Blacks of their world record for consecutive wins. It could have been a lot worse, though. Turns out the Australians had every right to be confident. Now they will go to Eden Park in seven days with even more self belief.

Credit must go to the All Blacks too. They were almost penalised off the park by South African referee Jaco Peyper. Richie McCaw was in his bad books fairly early - he must be thinking officials from the Republic have it in for him after the late drama with the Crusaders at this very venue a fortnight ago.

Prop Wyatt Crockett, hoping to make his mark with Tony Woodcock laid low with a shoulder injury, was sinbinned at the end of the first half and didn't return, his replacement Ben Franks a permanent one.

McCaw's men got few favours from Peyper and had to scramble time and again as the Wallabies looked to take advantage of their weight of possession. However, Peyper's penalty at the death which awarded the All Blacks possession in front of their posts was rare manna from heaven.

Beauden Barrett, a second-half substitute for Aaron Cruden, also saw yellow with 12 minutes remaining and it was a credit to the All Blacks that they could hold out the green and gold tide with a numerical disadvantage.

The wet weather was supposed to help the All Blacks, who on paper had a much better forward pack. The Aussies, though, buoyed by the Waratahs' Super Rugby victory, scrapped for everything. That New South Wales confidence appears to have filtered through to everyone in Ewen McKenzie's squad.

Both sides had each other on the ropes but neither could deliver the knockout blow. Julian Savea's tackle on right wing Pat McCabe as the match entered its fourth quarter was crucial. So too, was a neat little step from All Blacks hooker Dane Coles on the sideline with Kurtley Beale bearing down on him.

There were mistakes - the wet weather saw to that - but there was inventiveness, bravery and skill too in a test which hung in the balance for the entire 80 minutes.

Beale, a controversial selection at first-five, was hit hard, very hard, by both Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino, but he kept bouncing up again. He has a reputation for flightiness but there were no high-profile mistakes. He was, however, kept at the back on defence, as expected.

Various topics were covered in what was an increasingly lively build-up to this test.

For that we have All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to thank. In good form on the eve of a crucial match for both his side and Australia, Hansen touched on the pros and cons of first-fives Beale and Bernard Foley and how the Wallabies seemed to be putting pressure on themselves by insisting it was their year to win back a trophy they last held in 2002.

In the end it was a test of grit and determination rather than about an individual or flair or all out attack. There will be disappointment in New Zealand that the All Blacks failed to go to 18 wins, but they deserve applause for digging as deep as they ever have under Hansen's reign.

- APNZ

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