Harsh refereeing costs victory to the Wallabies and hides the weaknesses of the All Blacks | rugby league

VSSome things in rugby union never seem to change. Australia have not lifted the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 and their breathless 39-37 loss to New Zealand in Melbourne on Thursday extended that streak. The difference on this occasion was the unique way in which victory was snatched from the Wallabies, thanks to one of the most dramatic refereeing interventions in the history of the game.

Leading by three points with a penalty to hit close to their own line, any team in the world would have taken their time and checked to see if their laces were properly tied. On this occasion, however, the time bandits were scolded. After awarding Australia a penalty for turnover when the clock showed 78 minutes and 25 seconds, the French referee, Mathieu Raynal, changed his mind and gave New Zealand a scrum when the clock now showed 79 :04.

Is 39 seconds an unreasonable delay? Couldn’t Mr. Raynal have simply added a little more time rather than taking the nuclear option, which the All Blacks duly scored by Jordie Barrett in the right corner?

Not even John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, with similar initials, could match this late twist. Or, as Australia captain James Slipper put it: “It was probably the most heartbreaking way to end a game.”

Of course, World Rugby wants to step up the game. Raynal had shouted “We play” a few times as Bernard Foley waited for his squad to clear their tactical group behind him. New Zealand coach Ian Foster called it “clear”. Either way, it felt very tough against the backdrop of Australia’s fine fightback from 31-13 and set a major precedent.

The referee, Mathieu Raynal, explains his dramatic decision to penalize Australia for losing time to Bernard Foley. Photography: Joel Carrett/AAP

It also obscured the fact that the All Blacks remain distinctly deadly. Yes, they snuck it in the end. But the majority of their points came when the Wallabies were down to 13 or 14 men and at no point did the All Blacks look from afar at the peak of their powers.

Instead, it was a flawed and fluctuating game to give the national coaches of Ireland, England, Wales or even Scotland some extra encouragement on what the next 13 months might hold. Did either team look more organized than Ireland, more powerful than France, did they have a better line-up than England or did they look as inspired defensively as Wales on tour in South Africa?

Even with a numerical advantage, the All Blacks often huffed and huffed and only the honed instincts of Richie Mo’unga and Will Jordan ultimately bailed them out.

Obviously there is still time to tinker with the selection, but it is in the crucial areas of tactical acumen and clear thinking where New Zealand, once masters of both, are currently diminished. Even the second-half try scored by the eager Samisoni Taukei’aho featured average decision-making, with the hooker ignoring plenty of extra men outside of him. Equally curious was why Hoskins Sotutu kicked off with Wallaby’s cover stretched and, again, supporting runners at his elbow.

Australia will be massively disappointed, therefore, to have let its visitors off the hook. Powerful Rob Valetini, tireless Pete Samu and returning Foley all deserved to be in the winners’ enclosure at Marvel Stadium and Foley’s talent as a 10-year-old made a noticeable difference in the variety of their offense.

With Michael Hooper, Quade Cooper, Hunter Paisami, Will Skelton, Rory Arnold among those still potentially available for Dave Rennie next year, there is clear potential for improvement. But first they have to start taking a higher percentage of their chances. Andrew Kellaway contributed a fine second-half try, but his failure to put the ball on the ground after a deft first-half move proved extremely costly.

Darcy Swain also needs to calm down if he wants to extend his international career. Sent off for hitting England’s Jonny Hill in July, he appeared to aim for Quinn Tupaea’s reinforced leg in a maul in a way that looked far more dangerous.

There will also be fresh concerns in New Zealand over their battered captain, Sam Cane, who has a history of concussions and failed another head injury assessment.

The All Blacks were lucky on this occasion but a potentially difficult European autumn still awaits them.