WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Reece Hodge hit the post with a long-range penalty after the fulltime siren and both teams had winning chances in almost nine minutes of added time before New Zealand and Australia drew 16-16 in a Bledisloe Cup rugby test played in front of more than 30,000 fans at Wellington’s regional stadium.
Wallabies replacement Hodge lined up the posts from 58 meters in the 82 minute and with a powerful wind at his back, struck a soaring kick which hit high up on the upright, bouncing back into play.
A long series of turnovers kept the match alive for almost seven minutes more with first New Zealand, then Australia threatening the other’s line. But neither was able to break a deadlock which had existed from the 77th minutes when All Blacks fullback Jordie Barrett kicked a penalty to make the score 16-16.
New Zealand relied on its counter-attacking ability to lead 8-3 at halftime and 13-3 after 43 minutes with tries to Barrett and Aaron Smith. Australia’s hit back with tries to both wingers, Marika Koroibete, then Filipo Daugunu on debut.
Flyhalf James O’Connor kicked a penalty that gave the Wallabies the lead for the first time at 16-13 after 73 minutes but New Zealand replied soon after through Barrett.
A match which didn’t rise to great heights in normal time, partly because of a swirling wind and heavy rain that fell through the second life, came alive after the final siren and Hodge’s narrow miss left his teammates with their heads in their hands.
The Wallabies had started heavy underdogs but outplayed the All Blacks, especially in the first half when they faced the wind but kept New Zealand pinned in its own half.
The test was a rare delicacy for rugby fans in the COVID-19 era; the first to be played anywhere in the world since the Six Nations in March and the first in New Zealand for 400 days.
Both teams were playing under new head coaches, Dave Rennie for Australia and Ian Foster for New Zealand, but neither was able to launch his international career with a win.
“It was a good start to our year. We haven’t been together for almost a year,” said Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, who played his 100th test.
“We’ve got a new group here and a few debutants tonight. I’m very proud of our team, they fought all the way through. Man, it was close...a kick off the post . . . but we go again next weekend and hopefully we’re up to the challenge.”
The teams meet again next Sunday at Auckland's Eden Park.
New Zealand had to exist of scraps of possession in the first half and looked rusty. But its counter-attacking sense remained sharp and it showed it after only nine minutes when Barrett scored the opening try.
Fullback Damian McKenzie launched the counter from a misplaced kick and linked with center Rieko Ioane on the left flank. The ball came back infield and Barrett was in position to take a long pass and score. The try was contentious because replays suggested Ioane might have stepped into touch.
There was also contention around the try to All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith early in the second half. Winger George Bridge ran onto an inside pass at the back of a lineout and broke into space. Smith was in support on his left and managed to beat his opposite, Nick White, in a one-on-one and score. But it appeared New Zealand prop Joe Moody might have helped create the gap by holding back his opposite James Slipper.
The Wallabies played with confidence and with the wind in their face in the second half. First Koroibete scored after O’Connor had doubled out wide and found the strong winger who beat McKenzie’s tackle in the left corner.
Then Daugunu was rewarded for an outstanding debut with his first test match try. White flicked a loose ball up to the winger who touched down in the right corner.
“Draws are funny things aren't they and I guess you could say both teams had their chances,” All Blacks captain Sam Cane said. “We probably should have been a bit more in front going into the second half.”
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports