The Wallabies fail to hold on to a big lead as the All Blacks stormed home in the second half to win the final match of the Tri Nations series 23-22 at ANZ Stadium.
Australia appeared set for victory holding a 22-9 lead with 20 minutes to go but two All Blacks tries broke the hearts of the 70,288 fans at ANZ Stadium.
The win means the All Blacks end the Tri Nations with a 100 per cent record and haven’t lost a Test to their trans-Tasman rivals since 2008.
The first half’s only try came in the 15th minute when No.8 Ben McCalman broke clear from the back of a scrum to release young winger James O’Connor, who crashed over in the corner.
The All Blacks could only manage two penalty goals in a disjointed first-half display by the visitors as the Wallabies took a 14-6 lead into the sheds.
Recalled winger Lachie Turner also had an eventful return to Test rugby, nearly scoring in the game’s sixth minute only to be denied by a great last-ditch tackle by Cory Jane.
Just four minutes after that Turner turned defender, hauling down All Blacks’ fullback Mils Muliaina with the line beckoning.
Matt Giteau’s boot proved inaccurate on the night, the centre missing two conversion attempts and two penalty goals to cost the Wallabies 10 vital points.
But that didn’t look like it would matter when Adam Ashley-Cooper went over just seven minutes into the second half to extend the Wallabies lead to 13.
The teams traded penalties before All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw found space off the back of a scrum to give the visitors hope with a try in the 66th minute.
Piri Weepu’s pressure conversion brought the margin within a converted try and the Blacks scented blood against a tiring Wallabies outfit, who were playing their third Test in as many weeks.
And when No.8 Kieran Read crashed over next to the goalposts six minutes later, Weepu converted to put the All Blacks ahead for the first time in the second half – a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The numbers still aren’t flattering, but Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is adamant Australia have definitely improved at the end of their Tri Nations campaign.
While they finished a distant second to New Zealand on the Tri-Nations table, Deans was adamant the Wallabies were moving forward.
“There’s no doubt we’ve made progress but in the terms of the benchmark we are just under the brow.”
He pointed to the benefits gained by the increasing international experience of youngsters like backs Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Quade Cooper, the last of whom was playing his first Test against New Zealand.
“If we can all make little incremental gains then collectively that will be significant and clearly we are not that far away,” Deans said.
The coach highlighted the crafty play by the All Blacks that ensured McCaw’s try when the skipper appeared to disengage early from a scrum as a key moment.
“They’re clever, the way they stay a step ahead,” Deans said.
“You’ve only got to look at the numbers to see they’re smart, good luck to them.”
His New Zealand counterpart, Graham Henry, acknowledged Australia pushed his team hard in their last two encounters but was non-committal about whether the Wallabies had improved since this time last year.
“The game in Christchurch was a difficult game and tonight was a difficult game, the Wallabies have been playing some very good football,” Henry said.
Replacement All Blacks hooker Corey Flynn felt the Wallabies scrum was continuing to improve.