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Wallabies must turn hard luck into heroics to make Bledisloe history at Eden Park | Australian national rugby union team


In their howl a brutal last-minute loss to the All Blacks in Melbourne, the true character of the Wallaby was exposed, ignored, mocked and crucified, but all too rarely celebrated. Sure enough, they lost the Bledisle Cup for 20 years and let the Rugby Championship win, dropping to an all-time low of ninth in the world rankings and once again infuriating their fans.

But they also showed a resilience that the Aussies can be proud of and that may yet serve them well in the upcoming spring Test tour against Scotland, France, Italy, Ireland and Wales, as well as the World Cup in France next September. For now, they have to face the All Blacks again, drawing strength from last week’s performance, a blistering, blistering fightback that almost secured a famous victory.

Down 31-13 in the final quarter in Melbourne, the Wallabies didn’t panic or throw caution to the wind as they could (and have done in the past). Instead, they held their nerve, stuck to the game plan and supported themselves and each other to turn things around. That they did, calmly and ruthlessly scoring three fantastic tries in a short space of time and then using every kicking opportunity to get their noses in front.

What happened next will be debated for a long time. Was Bernard Foley deliberately wasting time not getting kicked out? Did he not hear the referee’s instructions that “time-out” became “time-out” amid the noise of the crowd? Did a perplexing judge overstep his authority by pedantically enacting a law that is very rarely enforced? Is world rugby paying too much attention to the rules and too little to the feel of the game?

These questions deserve answers – and Rugby Australia wrote in World Rugby begging them and mourning the “authority officials”. But there’s still no answer (maybe they sent it in the mail?) and while it all matters, and a judge deciding such an important test is a terrible outcome for everyone, it’s history now. Sports have no soul or memory, they say. And this, of course, does not cause any sympathy.

Despite the bitter attitude towards Melbourne, the Wallabies have “parked themselves”, coach Dave Rennie says. Prepare for another test of Bledisloe in the darkest depths of enemy territory this weekend. There is no sadder phrase in sports than “dead rubber.” Yes, Bledislo is gone, and with it everything Rugby Championshipbut the Wallabies must dig deeper for this Test than at any time this season.

Australia haven’t won a Test at Auckland’s Eden Park since Bob Hawke was prime minister, Crocodile Dundee was in cinemas and You’re the Voice was in the charts. The last time the Wallabies won there, on September 6, 1986, Alan Jones was the coach. He said the 22-9 win was: “Unreal, fantastic, phenomenal. Greater than Quo Vadis, greater than all.’ Australia can achieve something equal parts unreal, fantastic and phenomenal if they win on Saturday.

The Wallabies have not won anywhere in New Zealand since 2001 and have lost 26 Tests there since then. But if they bring the grit that saw them win against England in Perth and Argentina in Mendoza and the flair that impressed South Africa in Adelaide and shocked the All Blacks last week, it is possible.

Wracked by injuries all season, destabilized by the loss of their captain Michael Hooper in August and blighted by ill-discipline and bad luck, Rennie’s side showed great character and spirit. Now they have to complete the streak to prove to themselves and the fans that Melbourne were no anomaly. If they break the Eden Park stranglehold and hurt the All Blacks on home turf, this could be a successful season.

Rennie’s eight-man reshuffle in Melbourne has paid dividends. The entire Melbourne side of Pete Samu, Rob Valetini and Rob Leota were dominant all night. But Leota tore his achilles and, with Darcy Swain is suspended for six weeks for his careless clearance from Quinn Toupea, veteran Caderyn Neville comes in at lock, with journeyman Jed Holloway and Harry Wilson on the wings.

Fullback Andrew Kelloway’s two tries in defense kept him in the No.15 jersey. But, again, Rennie didn’t blood little-used Melbourne Storm convert Suliasi Vuniwala, a proven scorer (86 tries in 111 NRL games) who can break the line and, at 192 see, compete in the air. With Marika Koroibete on the left and Vunivalu on the right, Australia could boast some serious weapons.

With a cool head and Foley’s guile in the spotlight, the Wallabies have a chance of a crash. The task is huge. The All Blacks are in their fort and star Ardi Savea is back in black. And off the field, the AFL grand final and NRL prelims compete for television. But if they keep the faith from last week and fortune favors the brave, this tough Wallabies side could yet go down in history.


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