A bitterly disappointed Michael Cheika admits the Wallabies wasted a golden chance to end their long drought across the Tasman in Saturday’s heart-stopping Bledisloe Cup defeat.
New Zealand retained the coveted trophy by overcoming a vastly improved Australia, winning 35-29 courtesy of a last-gasp Beauden Barrett try.
Kurtley Beale looked to have pinched it for the Wallabies with four minutes to go, leaping over for the team’s fifth try to put them ahead 29-28 in Dunedin and on course for a first win in New Zealand since 2001.
But Barrett drove a dagger through the visitors’ hearts with a near-instant response to seal a dramatic series win — the 15th in a row for the All Blacks — with his second try of the night.
Cheika was somewhat sour post-match and rued a number of on-field calls.
He reckoned Brodie Retallick should have been yellow-carded for up-ending Ned Hanigan in a lifting tackle he said could have broken his neck.
But while he felt Australia deserved to win, he said they spurned their opportunities.
“Any of that stuff does not in any way excuse not finishing the game off,” Cheika said.
“We should have won that game. We know it. We should have sealed that game off.
“The gallant loser thing’s not on.”
Australia twice came from behind but will live to regret not making the most of a dream start.
At one stage they were 17-0 ahead, with Israel Folau scoring a 70m intercept try after just 26 seconds.
But Bernard Foley’s wayward goalkicking at the indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium cost the visitors nine crucial points — and probably the match.
Australia would have been 24-7 up after half an hour had Foley not missed two conversion attempts and a penalty.
Instead, they clung for dear life to a three-point lead at the interval and lost their lead when Barrett barrelled over in the 63rd minute.
Foley missed another conversion minutes later after Will Genia crossed, hitting the upright for the third time to leave the door open for the world champions.
He finished with two goals from six attempts.
While the Wallabies kept on coming — helped by three New Zealand tries that were disallowed by television match official Rowan Kitt — they ultimately could not deny the hosts.
“They played some good rugby tonight and they’ll be disappointed. They could have easily won the match,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
“They’ve got to be pleased with themselves.”
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