Bledisloe Cup: Wallabies' success over the years
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Since the early 1930’s New Zealand and Australia have regularly fought tooth and nail for the prized Bledisloe Cup.
The massive trophy has been contested annually since 1982, with the trophy awarded each year to the team who records the most wins between the two Australasian nations.
Since 2003, however, there’s been a massive fall in Australia’s stocks.
It’s now been 15 years since the once-proud Australians last held the Bledisloe. They ceded it in 2003 after the All Blacks dominated proceedings in Sydney, then held on to grind out a close victory back home at Eden Park – and New Zealand haven’t given it up since.
A history of failure
Depending on who you ask, you’ll find wildly different explanations for why the trophy has not crossed the Tasman in the last decade and a half.
New Zealand, of course, has dominated world rugby in recent times – more so even than they traditionally have in the past. Since the start of the 2004 season the All Blacks have lost just 23 matches. Considering that Australia would need to beat New Zealand twice in once season to win back the Bledisloe, it’s not hard to see why they might struggle against a side that’s gone from strength to strength.
The All Blacks’ world dominance has coincided with a considerable weakening in the Wallabies. Australia entered the 2004 season having won almost 70% of their matches since rugby went professional in 1996. The last fifteen years, however, has seen their win rate drop to just 55%.
The way the Bledisloe is awarded also plays into the hands of the holders. The challenging team needs to bank over half the wins in any series in order to prise the Cup off the holder. Historically that’s meant the challenger has needed two wins from two matches (or a win and a draw).
Recent series have mixed things up. The three-match series, which has been predominant over the last fifteen years, gives the challengers an extra opportunity to reclaim the Bledisloe. From 2008 to 2010, prying the Bledisloe Cup off the holders became practically impossible, however, with four games played in the series. Given the relatively close nature of the competition, the chances of the challenger absolutely dominating the holder are slim to none – so the Cup was realistically never going to change hands during those four-match series with New Zealand as the defenders.
A number of factors have obviously contributed to the All Blacks’ fifteen-year reign, but the Wallabies have still managed to snaffle wins on the odd occasion – usually when New Zealand has least expected it. Relive the seven victories that Australia have claimed since 2004.
August 7, 2004 – Sydney
The holder for 2004 was unfortunately decided before the second match even took place, with New Zealand triumphing 16-7 in Wellington a few weeks earlier. Still, there was plenty of motivation for the Wallabies; the All Blacks had won the last three Bledisloe matches on the trot.
Graham Henry had taken over the All Blacks at the start of 2004 and was yet to lose a match, which didn’t bode well for the Eddie Jones-coached Wallabies. Less than a year earlier, however, Australia toppled New Zealand at the same ground in the semi-final stages of the 2003 World Cup – which gave the men in gold a small boost heading into the game.
Over 83,000 fans turned out, only to see the visitors take an early 9-0 lead. George Smith, however, started to impose himself on the match and his efficiency at the breakdown – combined with the lack of forward support provided by the All Blacks – saw the Wallabies draw level at 12-all near half-time. The final penalty, to tie the scores, came after a yellow card to Ali Williams due to New Zealand’s repeated infringements.
It was a try to former league star Lote Tuqiri that finally pushed Australia ahead by what came to be an insurmountable margin – with Smith throwing the final pass.
Australia ultimately triumphed 23-18, with Tuqiri’s score the sole try of the match. Matt Giteau, Matt Burke, Dan Carter, Carlos Spencer and Andrew Mehrtens all contributed points off the boot.
The win didn’t give the Wallabies the Bledisloe Cup, but it did contribute to them finishing ahead of the All Blacks in the Tri-Nations. New Zealand finished bottom of the table – for only the second time in history.
June 30, 2007 – Melbourne
2007 saw the Bledisloe Cup clash travel to Melbourne for just the third time since the game had gone professional. The last time that the Wallabies had hosted the All Blacks at the MCG, the home side emerged with a 24-16 victory.
The match in Melbourne was the first game between the two sides for the 2007 season. The last five derbies had all fallen New Zealand’s way, with the closest game between the teams being a 13-9 win to the All Blacks a year earlier in Brisbane.
2007 was a World Cup year, which meant that one eye was always going to be looking ahead to the flagship tournament in France at the end of the season. Controversy blew up early in the Tri-Nations when the Springboks revealed they would be sending a considerably weakened team to Australasia for the latter stages of the tournament. Whilst this was ostensibly to avoid over-playing their top players, medical reports provided by South Africaexplained away the absences.
Both New Zealand and Australia kicked off their campaigns with matches in the Republic, with Australia going down 22-19 and New Zealand winning by five points, which gave the All Blacks a little bit more momentum heading into their clash.
New Zealand were still trying to figure out who their top centre was when the Tri-Nations kicked off, which meant that Luke McAlister was handed the 13 jersey for the game. Australia, in contrast, had the well-travelled combination of Matt Giteau and Stirling Mortlock lining up in the midfield.
The All Blacks were heavy favourites and started accordingly, dotting down in just the 3rd minute and building up a 15-6 lead at halftime. A 61st minute yellow card to Carl Hayman proved decisive, with the Wallabies accruing two tries during his sinbinning, to wings Adam Ashley-Cooper and Scott Staniforth. The final score fell 20-15 in favour of the home side.
July 26, 2008 – Sydney
Barely a year later, the Wallabies were back at it again – and this won once again came on the hallowed Sydney turf.
Disastrous World Cup campaigns in 2007 saw both the All Blacks and the Wallabies knocked out of the competition in the quarter-final stages. That marked just the second time that the Australians had failed to make the semi-finals, and the first time for New Zealand.
The big story heading into the first Bledisloe Cup encounter for the year was that former Crusaders coach Robbie Deans had taken over at the Wallabies after missing out on the All Blacks head coaching role. Henry had managed to retain his job after the miserable World Cup.
What transpired was one of Australia’s biggest ever victories over New Zealand – and the largest over the last fifteen years. Notably, Richie McCaw was invalided from the match due to injury.
Brad Thorn was sent to the bin just four minutes into the match and the Wallabies built up a 10-0 lead in his absence. New Zealand took the lead for the first time in the 44th minute, 19-17, but that was to be the All Blacks’ final score of the game. Tries to Rocky Elsom and James Horwill in the second half, combined with the prodigious kicking of Matt Giteau, saw the Wallabies take the game 34-19.
October 30, 2010 – Hong Kong
Between 2008 and 2010, the fourth Bledisloe Cup match was taken to Asia. Japan played hosts in 2009 and Hong Kong were the lucky partners in 2008 and 2010.
The 2010 Bledisloe in Hong Kong, of course, has gone down in history.
New Zealand entered the match on a 15-match overall winning streak and were undefeated against Australia in 11 games. The All Blacks were on track to make history – but the Wallabies had other ideas.
Dan Carter had helped guide New Zealand to a 24-12 lead when he was benched in the 60th minute. In came Stephen Donald, who received the brunt of the criticism in the wake of the eventual lost. Australia fought back to 19-24 and after Donald missed a fairly regulation kick, which could have put the game beyond doubt, the Wallabies struck.
A poor clearance kick from Donald saw the Australian back-three counter attack and the All Blacks failed to number up on defence. Australia fought their way into the New Zealand 22 then spun the ball wide for James O’Connor to touch down and tie the scores up 24-all.
The 20-year-old O’Connor was then tasked with arguably the most important kick of his career – and he nailed the sideline conversion to give the Wallabies the win.
Donald went on to redeem himself a year later at the World Cup, but the memory of the Hong Kong loss still sits in the minds of many New Zealand fans.
August 27, 2011 – Brisbane
Like 2007, the Wallabies managed to spring a surprise on the All Blacks in a World Cup year. Unfortunately, a win for New Zealand earlier in the month meant that the Bledisloe was not on the line going into this match. The booby prize of a World Cup year, however, the Tri-Nations trophy, was still up for grabs – and this match would decide who topped the ladder.
Both sides fielded close to full-strength lineups, with only a handful of changes made to both teams between this match and the World Cup semi-final the teams would contest just months later.
Australia built an early lead, taking a massive 20-3 advantage into the halftime break. The hero of the first period was indisputably 35-year-old Radike Samo, who sprinted for 60m to score a try off of a lineout.
New Zealand actually fought back to level the game 20-all in the 59th minute, courtesy of tries to the midfield pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. The Wallabies found a second gear just moments later, however, with Kurtley Beale dashing through the NZ defence to give the Wallabies the 25-20 lead. This was to be the final scoring act of the match.
The win handed the Wallabies the Tri-Nations trophy for the first time since 2001, and meant they were the final team to claim the prize, with the competition re-branding as the Rugby Championship a year later.
When the two rivals clashed again in the World Cup knockout round later that year, it was New Zealand who ultimately came out on top.
August 8, 2015 – Sydney
It took almost four more years for Australia to finally notch up another win over New Zealand – and it once again came in a World Cup year.
Everything was on the line heading into the early August match. Both sides were sitting on two victories from two games, giving the Australasian neighbours a shot at the title and a big advantage heading into the second Bledisloe encounter, which would play out just a week later.
The game didn’t really kick off until the second-half, with the two sides trading penalties in the first period to give the All Blacks a 6-3 advantage.
Experienced Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu scored his first ever test try shortly after the break – right after Aaron Smith was yellow carded for a high shot. New Zealand responded in kind when the Wallabies’ own halfback, Nick Phipps, was also binned. Nehe Milner-Skudder touched down to give NZ a 14-10 lead. The flying winger was in the action once again less than ten minutes later and pushed the All Blacks out to 19 points.
It was all Australia from that point on, however, with replacement halfback Nic White managing a penalty, a try and a conversion in the final 12 minutes to hand the Wallabies the win.
The Wallabies claimed the Rugby Championship trophy – in what was and still is the only year that the All Blacks did not top the ladder. The All Blacks got revenge seven days later, thumping the Wallabies 41-13 at Eden Park.
October 21, 2017 – Brisbane
In 2017, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium once again hosted a Bledisloe encounter.
The Queensland Reds’ home ground has proved one of the most successful fields for the Wallabies in recent years – at least when coming up against their brothers in black.
Since the victory in 2011, Australia had managed an 18-all draw, and a 28-29 loss to New Zealand. Sure, they weren’t wins – but beggars can’t be choosers.
New Zealand went into the match knowing they already had the Bledisloe Cup wrapped up after trumping Australia twice in the Rugby Championship – but there was still no expectation that they would take the Wallabies lightly.
Reece Hodge profited off a mistimed Lima Sopoaga pass to scoot away for the first try with just 7 minutes on the clock. Points were traded back in forth in the lead up to halftime, with New Zealand taking a 13-12 advantage into the break.
Opposing wingers Marika Koroibete and Rieko Ioane both dotted down in the second half to keep the game tight. With minutes left on the clock, the All Blacks looked to attack from a quick lineout at half way but lock Patrick Tuipulotu obstructed the Wallabies defence, giving Hodge the opportunity to advance Australia’s cause. He kicked the 55-metre goal, putting the Wallabies out to 23-18, and that was enough to get the Wallabies home.
By Tom Vinicombe, Rugbypass