Australia crowned champions after epic clash with New Zealand
Australia triumphed 27-19 in dramatic fashion against New Zealand to claim their first ever Rugby Championship title in Sydney on Saturday.
For once it was not All Black Skipper Richie McCaw who was the hero, however he did win his 141st Test for New Zealand to move level with the record holder Brian O’Driscll for most caps set.
Instead it was Australia replacement scrum-half Nic White who grabbed the headlines as he scored a try, conversion and penalty in the final minutes to give the Aussies the crucial victory in front of the incredible crowd of 73,824 at the ANZ Stadium.
The Wallabies hadn’t beaten New Zealand in the last ten meetings, but were fantastic especially in the scrum and at the breakdown. This will have sent a serious warning message to their World Cup Pool A opponents England and Wales.
Michael Cheika’s Wallabies had trailed 6-3 at half-time before finally getting on top in an end-to-end second half through three tries from Sekope Kepu, Adam Ashley-Cooper, and White. Centre Matt Giteau did the majority of the Aussie kicking with seven points while White also added five points from the tee.
For New Zealand Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder scored two tries on debut with Dan Carter making up the rest of the All Black scoring with three penalty strikes.
Australia started encouragingly but found themselves down to 14 men after eight minutes when Kepu got shown yellow for not retreating when Aaron Smith attempted to take a quick penalty close to the line. Carter struck the resulting penalty to give New Zealand the lead, 0-3.
Back up to their full XV Australia drew level when Giteau slotted a penalty from in front of the posts after 26 minutes.
The All Blacks immediately responded as Carter converted a long-range penalty three minutes later. Giteau then also had a chance from the tee, but saw his effort from 30 meters hit the upright. And that’s how things remained until the break with New Zealand leading narrowly by three points.
Two minutes after the break Aaron Smith was sin-binned for a noose-like tackle around the neck of Ashley-Cooper.
And the Wallabies took full advantage when a rare sidestep from tight-head prop Kepu allowed him to charge over for his first Test try and the opening score of the match. And Giteau stepped up to convert the extras confidently, 10-6.
Carter narrowed the gap back to just one point with another penalty and at the same time took himself up to an outstanding 1500 points mark for the All Blacks.
Aussie scrum-half Nick Phipps difficult afternoon then got tougher when he was the second Wallaby to get sin-binned for not retreating ten meters after 54 minutes.
And a minute later Milner-Skudder on debut displayed a great burst of pace to exploit a gap and score in the right corner to regain New Zealand the lead. And Carter’s conversion was inches wide of the left post, 10-14.
The Wallabies then got back in front on the hour through a spectacular diving try from veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper following a fantastic grubber kick from replacement Matt Toomua. And Giteau made the conversion from a tight angle to extend the lead to three points.
But the All Blacks hit back as quick-runner Milner-Skudder burst in to touch down his second try. Carter’s attempted conversion this time missed wide of the right post.
Aussie replacement White regained the lead for the Wallabies with an amazing long-range penalty soon after, 20-19.
White then added a first Test try to his penalty as he shuddered off a tackle to touch down. He then added the extras himself as Australia hung on to claim their first Rugby Championship title.
The Wallabies now travel to Auckland to take on New Zealand again in the final Test of the Bledisloe Cup next weekend.
Man of the match
The veteran wing was terrific throughout and exhibited his trademark spectacular diving try. He attacked well with his dynamic running but also tackled well in defence, displaying that true Aussie spirit. The 31-year old is to join Bordeaux after the conclusion of the 2015 World Cup, meaning this could have been the last time we see him pull on the gold jersey in Sydney.