O'Connor heroics stun All Blacks
October 30, 2010
James O'Connor leads the celebrations in Hong Kong
© Getty Images
Australia ended their long hoodoo against the All Blacks with a 26-24 victory at Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday, with Western Force winger James O'Connor converting his own try with the last kick of the game.
Victory for Robbie Deans' men drew a line under a 10-game losing streak against their Trans-Tasman rivals and ensured that the All Blacks fell short in their attempt to set a world record for consecutive Test victories.
In a game heralded as the first Test meeting between Quade Cooper and returning All Black maestro Dan Carter honours were shared, with Cooper scoring an early try before fading as the game went on. Carter was short of his ebullient best following ankle surgery but kept his side on an even keel, kicking nine points and helping to create two tries.
The Wallabies opened up a 12-point lead thanks to tries from Cooper and Adam Ashley-Cooper but the All Blacks bit back hard before the break with five-pointers to scrum-half Jimmy Cowan and winger Cory Jane being underpinned by a dominant display from their pack at the scrum.
New Zealand forged ahead in the second-half thanks to a Ma'a Nonu try and the boot of Carter, but Drew Mitchell and O'Connor had the pace and guile to ensure late drama and a famous night for Australian rugby.
The Wallabies dominated the early stages and profited with a brace of penalties, both of which were sent flying past the uprights in ugly fashion by the otherwise excellent Kurtley Beale.
Cooper's opening gambit was far more composed as he conjured an excellent kick to take his side into New Zealand territory before carving through the smallest of gaps to send heart-rates soaring in the All Blacks' backline. Crucially it was Carter that hauled the Reds playmaker down but after an offside penalty against New Zealand, Cooper sealed the deal with another dart for the opening try.
Once the Wallabies had turned down three points in favour of a quick tap the ball was worked back to the fly-half, who exploited a slip by Nonu on a poor surface to crash over out wide. Matt Giteau's conversion faded across the face as a difficult afternoon with the boot began for the centre but the Wallabies kept up their helter-skelter start when a turnover from a Nonu break almost yielded a try after stunning hands from Beale and O'Connor led to Jane shepherding the ball into touch under huge pressure.
Carter sent his opening penalty cannoning off the upright and followed it up with another uncharacteristic miss before the Wallabies exploited more suspect midfield defence for their second try. As the All Blacks flew up, Cooper whipped the ball into midfield to allow Ashley-Cooper to break a paper-thin tackle from Carter and Nonu before stepping Jane to score.
Giteau's conversion opened up a 12-point lead but the All Blacks took control before half-time to overhaul their advantage. Stunning defence from Beale, who held up Keven Mealamu when the hooker was certain to score, was wasted as New Zealand came back for more, with Jerome Kaino's powerful surge for the line allowing Cowan to dive over from close range.
The Wallabies barely had time to draw breath before Jane bagged the All Blacks' second. A miss-pass from Carter eliminated Australia's narrow midfield defence and a strong run from Kieran Read left Jane with a simple run to the corner. Carter banged over the conversion and rubbed salt in the wound with a penalty just before the break as the All Blacks' scrum continued to dominate.
The Wallabies flew out of the traps in the second-half but both Rocky Elsom and O'Connor were denied by powerful All Black defence, while Giteau's kicking woes continued as he missed another regulation shot at goal.
Cooper's cool also deserted him as he sent a kick flying out on the full and the All Blacks redoubled their efforts. McCaw powered into the Australian 22, leaving tacklers in his wake, and another clever Carter pass gave Nonu the chance to fix Stephen Moore and score his side's third with ease. Carter converted for a 24-12 lead.
The troublesome pitch contributed to the Wallabies hauling themselves back into the game as a costly slip by Isaia Toeava undid New Zealand. Will Genia did well to pull the ball away from another troubled Wallaby scrum and Beale exploited Toeava's slip, haring clear with the ball in two hands before unleashing a flying Mitchell for the corner. The kicking duties passed to O'Connor and he slotted a beauty from the touchline to make it 24-19.
Two poor lineouts in All Black territory undid the Wallabies' comeback and replacement midfielder Berrick Barnes contributed to the frustration with a dreadful pass after he had split the defence to leave O'Connor eyeing a run in out wide. The All Blacks looked set to seal victory as replacement fly-half Stephen Donald lined up a hard-won penalty within kickable range but when his effort went wide the stage was set for the most thrilling of conclusions. Australia poured forward after a sparkling break from Cooper and while a knock-on allowed Donald to clear, his punt fell invitingly to Beale.
Two penalties in quick succession were tapped close to the All Black line with the ball finally making its way to O'Connor, who had the footwork to step and score before landing a perfect, nerveless conversion.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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