Two controversial red cards will dominate the discussion but the Wallabies will at least disembark their Bledisloe Cup rollercoaster in the knowledge this new generation can beat the All Blacks.
One week after that record 43-5 humiliation in Sydney, Australia chipped away at their trans-Tasman rivals, leading, then conceding, and eventually outlasting a team that had, only seven days ago, consigned them to a harrowing place indeed.
The 24-22 result was as close numerically as it was in balance all the way until the full-time whistle. The boot of Reece Hodge put Dave Rennie’s side ahead 17-15 with 10 minutes to play at Suncorp Stadium, before Taniela Tupou ran over in the 75th minute and Hodge added the extras for a nine-point buffer.
The All Blacks refused to go quietly, Tupou Vaa’i scoring his first Test try with a minute on the clock but, even after Jordie Barrett’s conversion, could not close the deficit.
Saturday night’s fourth Test in Brisbane was a contradiction of a dead rubber, a chaotic thriller that finished with 14 men apiece after referee Nic Berry dished out two red cards that is sure to thrust rugby’s strict high-tackle rules under the spotlight.
Both sides were depleted before half-time as Swinton followed All Blacks forward Ofa Tu’ungafasi to the sheds for near-identical high tackles. Replays showed Tu’ungafasi had hit Wright on the chin, with no mitigating factors leaving referee Nic Berry reaching for the red card in the 23rd minute.
It should have been the decisive advantage, but instead the Wallabies finished the half with one man fewer on the park than the All Blacks. First Swinton replicated Tu’ungafasi’s hit with a challenge on Sam Whitelock, except without any signs of his arms in the tackle, to recklessly earn a red of his own.
By the time winger Marika Koroibete was yellow-carded for a line-ball penalty deemed the final straw following repeated infringements James Slipper, playing his 100th Test, had already come to blows with All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
The tension accompanied desperate defending from the Wallabies, who went into half-time at 8-8. After the break they defied their shortage to start the better, Hodge’s penalty converting some smart early pressure for an 11-8 lead.
But All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor scored off the back of the scrum from the restart, Nic White fumbling Wright’s inside pass as the immediate reply went begging.
Hodge then missed a penalty from 50 metres but the Wallabies continued to press, and New Zealand’s Scott Barrett found himself sin-binned for a professional foul. Hodge did not miss another from in-front though, with Tupou then burrowing over for a nine-point lead with five minutes to play.
The All Blacks replied through Tupou Vaa’i, leaving two minutes for the All Blacks to conjure a match-winner. But Koroibete twice crunched Jordie Barrett to force an error and seal the win and with it a little pride after a 2-1 series loss.
“We said we wanted a response after last weekend and we got it,” Rennie said post-match. “Hodgey kicked pretty well and we got our noses in front. We’ve got a long way to go – we’re going to get much better – But it’s good to get a result like this. It helps to get a bit of belief.”