Dunedin: Two minutes and 24 seconds.
That’s how close the Wallabies came to pulling off what would have been one of the country’s greatest victories on Saturday evening.
Michael Cheika’s valiant Wallabies have suffered more Bledisloe Cup heartbreak in the most devastating circumstances after they squandered a 17-point lead and a one-point advantage in the dying minutes to fall at the final hurdle 35-29 against the All Blacks.
Australia, who were thumped in Sydney last week, came within just three minutes of snapping a 20-game losing streak spanning 16 years on New Zealand soil.
No.12 Kurtley Beale looked to be Australia’s saviour, crossing for a try in the 76th minute to put the Wallabies in the box seat after one of the most enthralling games of rugby one could witness.
With all the pressure on Australia – unfamiliar territory in these kind of trans-Tasman fixtures – the ball was lost and shortly after Beauden Barrett, who scored 20 of New Zealand’s 35 points, put the nail in the coffin with a match-winner under the sticks in dramatic circumstances.
When Barrett scored his side’s third try in the 61st minute, to put the All Blacks ahead 21-17, the task looked to be beyond the Wallabies, who had been in front all match.
But when halfback Will Genia sprinted through to the line, the Wallabies were back in front and showing world rugby’s best side that they would not lie down.
With Australian rugby on its knees, a 17-0 Wallabies advantage after 15 minutes, against all odds, had people believing the unthinkable could happen.
Those in Australia who refused to watch another Wallabies game tentatively reached for the television remote once word filtered through that Cheika’s men had lifted their game.
Bookies had the Wallabies as 15-1 outsiders and one New Zealand commentator even tipped in the pre-game coverage the All Blacks would pile on nine tries.
The Wallabies took a 17-14 lead into half-time and it was the first time since 2009 that they had led the All Blacks in New Zealand at the break.
New Zealand appeared to have gained scoreboard ascendancy in the 54th minute when Brodie Retallick got over the line but the TMO concluded it was “not clear and obvious [the ball] had been grounded” to the bewilderment of the All Blacks.
The Wallabies were fighting like their lives depended on it.
Bernard Foley’s kicking was errant and he left seven points out on the field in the opening 40 minutes and a total of nine for the match.
It would have made the difference in the end and no doubt he will fully aware of that.
The Wallabies were spirited and proved they could match it with the very best. The respect they will earn among the rugby public will be profound despite their near harrowing defeat.
There was a degree of drama before the match too, with kick-off delayed by 10 minutes due a problem with lighting.
Both teams warmed up in poor lighting conditions and were forced to extend their preparation by 10 minutes before making their way out.
There was stunned silence among the local crowd, save for a bay of devoted Wallabies supporters, when Israel Folau scored a stunning 65-metre intercept try after just 26 seconds.
In the opening exchanges, however, the All Blacks made uncharacteristic mistakes, particularly Sonny Bill Williams, who was playing like he was suffering the after-effects of his concussion last weekend.
The Wallabies repelled multiple All Black attacking threats before going up the other end and scoring, courtesy of captain Michael Hooper finding a narrow gap in the defensive line, to lead 12-0 after 12 minutes.
Panic set in for New Zealand and that was only exacerbated when Will Genia darted through the middle off the field off the back of a scrum before Bernard Foley dived over to give the visitors a shock 17-0 lead in the 15th minute.
As expected, the All Blacks fought back. But even after Rieko Ioane crashed over in the 22nd minute, the Wallabies did not lose their composure like they have done in similar situations over recent years.
Australia’s togetherness in defence translated into confidence in attack and they looked galvanised by the prize of creating history against all odds.
Cheika was an animated man throughout the first half, clearly unimpressed with a number of refereeing calls, but he would have been beside himself when on the stroke of half-time the Wallabies conceded a scrum penalty off their own feed, which led to a New Zealand try off the ensuing play.
It brought the margin back to three points but the late five-pointer was an absolute coach killer that all but confirmed the Wallabies scrum just was not up to the contest.
The All Blacks were denied two tries and Henry Speight also fluffed a chance with the line in sight in what was ultimately a terrific game of rugby where both sides asked questions of each other.
The Bledisloe Cup may be once again with New Zealand but the fight and hunger showed by Hooper and his men will leave a lasting impression for many years to come.
They can return to Australia with their heads well and truly held high.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.