Replacement halfback Nic White has been the unlikely hero for the Wallabies who have defeated the All Blacks 27-19 to win the Rugby Championship and move within a victory of breaking their 13-year Bledisloe Cup drought.
The triumph at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night was the Wallabies’ first over the All Blacks in 11 Tests and their first against the New Zealanders since 2011.
Brumbies No.9 White turned the game on its head with a late try and a penalty goal to secure a dramatic victory, as coach Michael Cheika’s plan to start two openside flankers, David Pocock and Michael Hooper, proved a success.
White broke the All Blacks’ line with eight minutes remaining when he sold a big dummy, much to the delight of the crowd of 73,824, converting his try to seal the win.
It came shortly after White landed a penalty goal from 48 metres out, as Cheika’s men set up a blockbuster second winner-takes-all Bledisloe Test next weekend at Eden Park.
Australia made a blazing start to the second half when prop Sekope Kepu barged over to score the opening try of the game just a few minutes in after Aaron Smith was given a yellow card for a high tackle.
Starting halfback Nick Phipps was then yellow-carded for being offside and the All Blacks made them pay not long after. Debutant Nehe Milner-Skudder crashed over after a terrific offload from Dan Carter found Ben Smith who popped a pass to his flying right winger to make it 14-10.
Matt Toomua produced a big play shortly after coming on for Bernard Foley when the Brumbies’ playmaker came up with a deft kick which sat up for Adam Ashley-Cooper who finished it well under pressure from Ben Smith.
Matt Giteau slotted the conversion from the corner and the Wallabies hit the lead 17-14 with Phipps still in the sinbin.
The All Blacks hit back with Milner-Skudder scoring his second try of the night on the right edge, taking three Wallabies over the line before coming up with a strong second effort to force the ball and make it 19-17.
The All Blacks went to the halftime break leading 6-3 thanks to a couple of Carter penalty goals.
The inclusion of man of the match Hooper and No.8 Pocock in the starting line up was expected to weaken the Wallabies’ set-piece and while they struggled in the lineout, their scrum was terrific.
“Australia played particularly well tonight and I think they thoroughly deserved the win and the championship. They outmuscled us I thought at scrum time, they won the battle over the ball and under the body at breakdown,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
Captain Richie McCaw, who in playing his 141st Test equalled the Irishman Brian O’Driscoll’s appearance world record, paid credit to the Wallabies for their strong finish.
“We made it a little bit easy through some poor decision making and they took their chances … we’ve won games in the past because we got that right, but tonight we didn’t and the Wallabies did,” McCaw said.
Cheika said he was proud of his side’s effort and did his best to play down any hype surrounding the win.
“We didn’t do anything particularly special, we just stayed in it tonight and that’s what we need to do. Keep showing that commitment and keep working hard and refining it as we go along,” he said.
The coach was full of praise for his back-up halfback, who is a big chance to take Phipps’ starting spot in Auckland after his performance.
“Nic White was given more time tonight based off the way he’s performed in his training during the week and he wanted to take that opportunity,” Cheika said.
“He was asked if he wanted to kick a goal from long range … he had good distribution and good service and he scored a try. That’s what I want, I want blokes putting their hand up and saying `I want to be in this’.”