New Zealand began their Rugby Championship title defence with a tense draw on Saturday, with Australia managing to hold their own and share the spoils with a 12-12 result that left neither side with cause to celebrate.
Steve Hansen's men came to ANZ Stadium as reigning champions and their perfect record in this competition was halted at 12 successive matches, ESPN Scrum confirming the result:
And that's the game. Australia 12-12 All Blacks. New Zealand's run of 17-straight wins comes to an end http://t.co/93KP2uT01a— ESPN Scrum.com (@espnscrum) August 16, 2014
The first of three Bledisloe Cup meetings this year promised a lot, but it was a slow and, at times, tedious affair for both teams, with the All Blacks going in at the break with a 9-3 lead.
Penalties were traded early on between the two sides, making clear-cut scoring chances difficult to come by. Ruckin Good Stats illustrated the lack of discipline at half-time, although there was a difference in how penalties were conceded:
Halftime:Australia conceded 6 penalties, 4 in possession of the pill. New Zealand conceded 8 penalties, 2 in possession of the pill #AUSvNZL— Ruckin Good Stats (@ruckingoodstats) August 16, 2014
Wet conditions made for a stop-start match as fly-halves Aaron Cruden and Kurtley Beale exclusively accounted for the point count, while the Wallabies failed to capitalise on a Wyatt Crockett yellow card just prior to the break.
Ewen McKenzie's young captain Michael Hooper had the opportunity to claw down New Zealand's advantage when Crockett's 38th-minute sin-binning came but opted to make an attempt on the line. Rugby World's Paul Williams questioned the decision:
Very unusual decisions from the Wallabies in that first half. Not going to beat the All Blacks by turning down kickable GKs #notsuperrugby— Paul Williams (@thepaulwilliams) August 16, 2014
The second period was very much a similar story as Beale and Cruden notched up their kicking tallies, with New Zealand 12-9 up heading into the final 20 minutes.
It was around this stage that things began to open up and the hosts got a better look at the try line as the substitutes weaved their way into play, Tony Veitch of Radio Sport noted the impact of Ma'a Nonu's supposed shoulder injury:
9-all.. This is not ideal . Nonu's injury does not look good either . Bring on some Barrett magic ..— Veitchy on Sport (@veitchynz) August 16, 2014
Referee Jaco Peyper did a satisfactory job of keeping the momentum in play considering how difficult the adverse conditions made matters, but New Zealand always managed to hold their own, often proving to be superior at the set piece in particular.
For all their bluster, Australia were lacking in clinical finishing, Ruckin Good Stats broke down the second-half rhythm with 15 minutes remaining:
64 min:Score Australia 9-12 New Zealand. Australia 2nd half poss 57%, terr 48%. Ball spent 11% inside Australia 22 19% inside NZ 22 #AUSvNZL— Ruckin Good Stats (@ruckingoodstats) August 16, 2014
Another telling influence on proceedings came in the 69th minute, where substitute Beauden Barrett picked up his team's second yellow of the game just before Beale was withdrawn in favour of Waratahs team-mate Bernard Foley for the closing stages.
Was a draw the right result in Sydney?
Before withdrawing from the fray, Beale wouldn't be bested by Cruden, however, and he notched a fourth kick of his own to tie the scores at 12-12.
As the clock ticked through the final 10 minutes, Australia looked all the more likely to take the victory as fatigued bodies mounted across the pitch. Barrett came back from the bin with only a minute of play remaining.
In the end, play ended with the All Blacks defending their own try line, and despite a late chance to run the ball after the 80 minutes were through, no last-gasp comeback was in sight for the visitors, who had completed such a feat against Ireland at the end of 2013.
South Africa will look upon the scoreline as an advantageous one, however, with no victor emerging from the tournament opener in what was a fairly underwhelming outcome. Indeed, Sydney's ANZ Stadium stood in near silence upon the final whistle.