The All Blacks have lost their second match in as many weeks. Will Genia stole the show as the Wallabies upset the New Zealanders 25-20 in both sides' last hit out before the Rugby World Cup.
The first half was all Wallabies as the forwards constantly bullied their more fancied opponents, forcing the All Blacks to have to defend for long periods. Even when the All Blacks did get the ball, little of it was any use to them as they were constantly on the back foot and struggled to gain any momentum against a hungry Wallabies outfit.
The All Blacks defended valiantly, but the pressure was always going to tell and sure enough, the line was broken and superstar halfback Will Genia touched down to score the first of three tries for the Wallabies.
Twenty minutes later, Australia's No. 8, Raideke Samo, broke an Adam Thomson tackle and ran 50 meters to touchdown under the sticks in what was the decisive moment. From here, the All Blacks were really chasing the game, trailing 20-3 at the break.
It was a different All Blacks side who came out to play the second half though, the forwards looking much more committed and showing some of the intensity that has had them almost impossible to beat in recent years. A Dan Carter penalty brought the score back to within two converted tries, before a long passage of pick-and-gos led to tries to Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu, bringing the score back to 20-all with 20 minutes to go.
At this point, it seemed that momentum had shifted and the All Blacks were going to pull off an unlikely victory. The Wallabies had barely had the ball since halftime and they looked unlikely to get their hands on it, while struggling to contain an All Blacks side which had finally rediscovered its try scoring touch.
But it wasn't to be. After finally securing possession, the Wallabies capitalized on their opportunity, scoring what was to be the match-winning try. Genia made yet another break round the fringes before delivering to Reds teammate Digby Ioane, who linked with Kurtley Beale to score the final try of the game.
Stoic defense kept the All Blacks out in the final 20 minutes, handing the Wallabies their first Tri-Nations since 2001.
So what went wrong for the All Blacks?
Plain and simple, they were beaten up by a team that was far more hungry and committed. The forwards weren't able to set a good platform as they normally do and correspondingly, the backs struggled.
The scrum at times looked good, while the lineouts were all right in general, but the breakdown was a real weakness. To go with this, they didn't seem to have the same physicality on defense that normally makes them such a tough team to run through. This was largely due to the fact that their defensive leader, Jerome Kaino, wasn't there. Kaino's form has been outstanding this year, and last night shows just how important he is to this All Blacks team.
Injuries to Read and Thomson proved to be costly, as they were forced to play the second half with Sam Whitelock in the unfamiliar position of blindside flanker. The damage to these players isn't known yet, so it remains unclear as to whether they will be fit to play in the World Cup.
The backs, normally so polished and dangerous, looked incapable of finding a gap. The nine-ten combination of Piri Weepu and Dan Carter had a rare off night. Weepu was guilty of leaving the ball in the ruck for too long with little protection, giving the Wallabies every chance to drive over the top, which they did to great effect on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, Carter had what was arguably his worst game in an All Black jersey, taking too many bad options. Glimpses of his brilliance were seen in the early second half, but overall, it was a night to forget for the usually impeccable first five-eighth.
The midfield combination of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith operated very well once again, despite all that was going on inside them. Each defended admirably, with Smith in particular making some outstanding tackles as always. Nonu provided some good going forward, but lacked any support, while Smith was tidy outside him. Both touched down for one try each.
The back three had a forgettable night, dropping too many high balls and failing to threaten with ball in hand. Although it must be said, it is hard for a winger or fullback to be dangerous in a team where so much is going wrong inside them. Nevertheless, it wouldn't be silly to assume Israel Dagg will come into the frame in some form for the big games at the World Cup.
The one player who really put his hand up came in surprise selection Victor Vito. After not making the initial Tri-Nations squad, Vito found his way into the World Cup squad with few international minutes behind him this year. But his performance last night justified his selection, coming on 15 minutes in for the injured Read and playing some very good rugby.
Keven Mealamu too had a very strong game, but lacked support from those around him in the tight five.
But the real star of the show was the Wallabies' Will Genia, who constantly gave the All Blacks defense headaches with his ability to snipe through the smallest of gaps. He has firmly established himself as one of the world's top players and will no doubt star in the coming World Cup.
The Wallaby defense was excellent, pulling off some timely spot tackles that saved certain tries and proved the difference in the end.
So, is it time to panic for All Black fans?
No it's not. This was nothing new. It's been known for years that the Wallabies are capable of getting up for one-off games and giving teams real problems, just as they did last night. We saw it in Hong Kong last year too.
The All Blacks looked disinterested at times last night, even tired from their trip back from South Africa. But you can be sure come World Cup time they will be up for every game and they will be a much tougher nut to crack than they were last night.
The other thing to remember, is that it's one thing to beat the All Blacks in South Africa or Australia. But it's a whole new kettle of fish trying to beat these men in their home country and at their fortress of Eden Park, where they haven't lost since that famous game against France in 1994.
Nonetheless, the win will be a massive psychological boost for the Wallabies, knowing that they now can beat a full strength All Blacks side. And of course as we all know, it only takes a one-off performance to win a World Cup.
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