The pain and suffering continues with the All Blacks retaining the Bledisloe Cup for an eighth straight year after a record-equalling ninth successive victory over the Qantas Wallabies on Saturday night.
Australia delivered a vastly-improved showing than the previous week’s debacle in Melbourne, but New Zealand still had too much power and precision, prevailing 20-10 for their 13th consecutive Test win.
The 10-point triumph also virtually secured the Bundaberg Red Tri Nations trophy, the world’s top-ranked team requiring just a lone bonus point from their remaining two away matches against Australia and South Africa.
Clearly stung by the 21-point hammering seven days earlier, the Wallabies threw everything at the All Blacks at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium.
Robbie Deans – back in his home city for the first time as coach of the Wallabies – even belted out the Australian national anthem pre-match in a welcome show of solidarity after a week of flak for his beleaguered side.
Alas, the gallant Wallabies were unable to convert long periods of possession and territory into tries, their lone five-pointer coming via a first-half breakout effort from fullback Kurtley Beale.
Still, there was no humiliation this time, with the All Blacks only clinching victory with a 71st-minute penalty goal to super boot Dan Carter.
“I wouldn’t be the only to say they put everything into the match. I was really proud of that,” Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom said.
“To a man, every guy out there put everything they had into getting over the line. We didn’t get there, but it wasn’t through a lack of trying.”
Coach Deans hailed the performances of his three starting debutants – fullback Beale, centre Anthony Faingaa and his twin brother Saia Faingaa at hooker – but rued the Wallabies’ inability to convert sustained periods of pressure into points.
“If you aspire to beating the All Blacks, you’ve got to play your hand when it presents itself and make the most of those moments and we weren’t able to do that,” Deans said.
“That’s what they did do. They scored effectively a couple of times and we weren’t able to. We scored (only) once and that finishing was the point of difference in the game.”
Indeed, the All Blacks – who have now scored 33 tries in their seven Tests so far this year – were again lethal early.
Fullback Mils Muliaina and centre Conrad Smith struck within the space of seven minutes either side of Beale’s 65-metre effort in the eighth minute after Carter had spilled the ball in a tackle.
Carter’s two conversions and a penalty, which cancelled out Matt Giteau’s 20th-minute penalty, helped the All Blacks to a 17-10 lead at the break.
Carter’s second penalty goal late on was the only score of the second half.
New Zealand’s nine straight wins over Australia matches the All Blacks’ streak from 1936 to 1947 and Sharpe, the longest-serving of the Wallabies’ current crop, said the repeated trans-Tasman bashings were becoming too much to cop.
“We had opportunities tonight that we didn’t take. That’s part of the learning process for us, but it’s not an enjoyable one,” he said.
“We can’t keep meeting like this at the end of games. It’s going to come to a point where we need to turn the corner.
“We’re living in the here and now and we wanted to win the Bledisloe Cup this year and unfortunately we haven’t done that.”