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The Battle of Brisbane

12:31:00, Sun 22 Oct 2017 Jim Kayes 171021Ausv All Blacks DN_375

The bloke sitting behind us was South African but he was keen to declare that, for one night at least, he was a Wallaby supporter. "Tonight I'm an Aussie," he told his Australian mates, "and we are going to beat the All Blacks."

With two minutes to play he told his friends the win was in the bag. They told him to keep quiet (though not as politely as that). Memories of Dunedin swirled around Suncorp Stadium but this time there was no Houdini act; no great escape conjured in the final few minutes to see the All Blacks snatch victory from the Wallabies.

The All Blacks winning streak was over. They'd lost, 23-18, to a Wallabies team that's steadily improved since the first match of the Rugby Championship when they were embarrassed in Sydney.This was always going to be a tough game for the All Blacks to "get up" for. The Bledisloe Cup was already safe and the Rugby Championship had been won again.

It was a dead rubber for them, but a chance for Australia to show how much they have improved since losing to Scotland in June and that 54-34 loss to New Zealand in Sydney in August. At Suncorp Stadium the Wallabies were good, very good at times, especially in the face of some All Blacks tackles that will make any Smashed 'em Bro highlights reel. Skipper Kieran Read, flanker Sam Cane, wing Waisake Naholo and second five Sonny Bill Williams hit the Wallabies in ferocious tackles in the opening quarter, with replacement prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi delivering one of his own late in the match. But as spectacular as those hits were, this was an All Blacks performance that lacked punch.

Yes, of course, they were missing five first choice players with Ben Smith on sabbatical, Brodie Retallick absent for personal reasons, Beauden Barrett out with concussion, and Joe Moody and Owen Franks injured.
That's a third of the starting XV and the impact of the absence of Barrett and Retallick, in particular, was clear for all to see. But the All Blacks have to be better that. They used to win without Daniel Carter and they need to be just as lethal on attack without Barrett there.

It's the same up front. They didn't have Retallick against South Africa in Cape Town but coped okay and should have been able to dominate the Wallabies in Brisbane too. Not having their top team has never been an excuse for the All Blacks. They could have won at Suncorp. They lost because Australia played well and they didn't - at least they didn't play as well as the All Blacks can. The attack was disjointed with too many passes astray and far too much ball kicked aimlessly away.

Decision making was poor and discipline was also an issue. It was just as well for the All Blacks that Bernard Foley was wayward from the tee or the result may not have been in the balance in the final few minutes.
Australian rugby has endured a horrible year. They couldn't beat a New Zealand team in Super Rugby and are in turmoil off the field with the Western Force controversially cut from the competition.

It's hit them at the gate with Suncorp not a sell out; this after the opening Bledisloe Cup test at Sydney's Olympic Stadium was played in front of the smallest crowd for that match at that venue. This win shine a bit of light at the end of the tunnel for rugby in Australia.

The manner of the the loss will frustrate the All Blacks and coach Steve Hansen, though he has already said it won't impact on the squad he takes to Europe in November. That group, he said, was picked before the Brisbane test and it won't change because of the defeat.

It is too soon to say if the Wallabies win heralds a change in their long term fortunes against the All Blacks. Afterall, they haven't held the Bledisloe Cup since passing it to the All Blacks in 2003 and they've enjoyed sporadic success against the All Blacks in the years since. But this win does show there's still life in the trans-Tasman contest and that's something true All Blacks fans should be happy about. It certainly pleased their South African fan.