All Blacks bounce back in Bledisloe thriller

The All Blacks have rebounded from a dreadful first half to beat the Wallabies 23-20 in the Bledisloe Cup test in Dunedin.

A capacity crowd of 28,265 went from genuinely worried at halftime this afternoon to rather relieved at the final whistle as the All Blacks came home strongly.

It was a topsy-turvy afternoon at Forsyth Barr Stadium as both teams played some hit-and-miss rugby.

The All Blacks were effectively missing in the first half as their decision to make radical changes to the team that won in Melbourne last week appeared to misfire badly.

They missed several tackles and looked worryingly out of sorts against a Wallabies team fired up and desperate to win their first game of the season.

Richie Mo’unga kicks the winning points for the All Blacks at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo: Getty...
Richie Mo’unga kicks the winning points for the All Blacks at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo: Getty Images

Eventually, with some class acts like Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga on the pitch, the All Blacks established some dominance.

They still had to rely on a late Mo’unga penalty to claim victory, and they will know this performance has raised some questions, particularly over their depth.

The Wallabies talked about capitalizing on the 20 good minutes they had at the start of the Melbourne test a week ago but they could not have dreamed how the first eight minutes would go in Dunedin.

They were simply sublime - while the All Blacks appeared to be simply asleep.

From the first attack in the third minute, big winger Marika Koroibete dived over in the left corner, and while the call was touch and go, the television match official judged he had just kept all limbs in the field of play.

Aaron Smith performs the haka at a packed stadium. Photo: Getty Images
Aaron Smith performs the haka at a packed stadium. Photo: Getty Images
Young first five Carter Gordon added the extras with a lovely kick that would have restored his confidence after a difficult night in Melbourne.

If that was a blow to the vocal home crowd, the second try just five minutes later was a dagger.

Again the Wallabies shifted the ball quickly and again the All Blacks’ defence was not sharp enough.

This time, energetic flanker Tom Hooper was on hand to score his first test try.

It was 14-0 and the dust had barely settled.

Time for the All Blacks to respond, and they looked promising when Will Jordan had some room to move.

After Damian McKenzie kicked a penalty to make it 14-3, the All Blacks had an attacking scrum from a rather comical dive and fumble from Koroibete.

That might have sparked a genuine comeback but it went nowhere.

That was rather the theme of the half for the All Blacks.

Rob Leota of Australia is held up over the line by Samisoni Taukei’aho. Photo: Getty Images
Rob Leota of Australia is held up over the line by Samisoni Taukei’aho. Photo: Getty Images
While the Wallabies looked mostly clinical with the ball, the All Blacks looked full of hesitation and disconnection.

Perhaps that was no surprise given the number of changes made from last week, but it was still a concern given this was an opportunity for some players to impress ahead of the World Cup squad naming on Monday.

Few took that opportunity.

McKenzie will be on the plane to France but possibly the worst half of his professional career featured a bunch of errors, aimless kicking and a reminder that Mo’unga is the leading first five in the country by some distance.

The All Blacks’ first-half woes were summed up in the final minute when they had an attacking lineout but wasted their opportunity with a miscommunication and fumble.

The Wallabies were twice held up over the line, too, so the damage could have been worse.

They got an immense shift out of No 8 Rob Valetini, while Andrew Kellaway looked potent at fullback and new captain Tate McDermott was excellent behind the scrum.

The All Blacks desperately needed to score first in the second half and they did so within three minutes.

It was a lovely moment, too, winger Shaun Stevenson getting a try on his debut.

Wallaby Andrew Kellaway couldn't stop All Black Shaun Stevenson from scoring at Forsyth Barr...
Wallaby Andrew Kellaway couldn't stop All Black Shaun Stevenson from scoring at Forsyth Barr Stadium this afternoon. Photo: Getty Images
The All Blacks thought they were on the verge of drawing level when Leicester Fainga’anuku barrelled over, but replays showed he had lost control of the ball.

It was another sign that momentum had turned, and Mo’unga – who replaced McKenzie just nine minutes into the second half – closed the gap with a penalty.

The Wallabies were looking a bit wobbly by this stage, having perhaps used up most of their luck or energy in the first half, and there was a sense the game was there for the All Blacks to take.

That feeling only grew when another newcomer, blindside flanker Samipeni Finau, also scored on debut to give the All Blacks the lead for the first time in the game.

But wait. Another twist.

Quade Cooper – a calm figure while boos rained down on him – slotted a 45m penalty to bring the scores level again.

It was now very much try-to-earn-a-penalty time, and when the opportunity arrived, Mo’unga slotted the winning goal from 40m.

Bledisloe Cup

The scores

All Blacks 23

Shaun Stephenson, Samipeni Finau tries; Damian McKenzie con, pen, Richie Mo’unga con, 2 pen

Wallabies 20

Marika Koroibete, Tom Hooper tries; Carter Gordon 2 con, pen, Quade Cooper pen

Halftime: Wallabies 17-3.