Dunedin, New Zealand (AP) — Flyhalf Beauden Barrett scored a try with two minutes remaining to give the New Zealand All Blacks a 35-29 win over the Australian Wallabies on Saturday, allowing them to retain the Bledisloe Cup in a classic rugby test.
Barrett finished with two tries and 20 points as New Zealand overcame a 17-0 deficit after only 15 minutes, then came back after twice losing the lead in the last 10 minutes for an extraordinary victory.
Australia started as massive underdogs after last weekend’s 54-34 loss in Sydney but produced one of the greatest turnarounds in rugby history to go within a fraction of an historic upset.
Australia snatched late leads with tries to scrumhalf Will Genia and center Kurtley Beale but on both occasions New Zealand instantly bounced back with tries of their own.
The Wallabies rocked the All Blacks with three early tries, including one from an intercept inside the first minute to fullback Israel Folau. Captain Michael Hooper in the 11th minute and flyhalf Bernard Folau, in the 15th, added tries which stunned the All Blacks in Dunedin’s indoor stadium.
The match started late after the Wallabies complained their buildup had been affected by a floodlight failure.
New Zealand clawed their way back with tries to winger Rieko Ioane — his sixth in as many tests — and to scrumhalf Aaron Smith to go to halftime only three points behind at 17-14.
The All Blacks finally gained the lead for the first time with Barrett’s first try in the 60th minute, edging ahead 21-17. But that was only the beginning of a dizzy finish in which five tries were scored in 20 minutes and the lead changed hands four times.
Genia reclaimed the lead in the 66th with a try that put the Wallabies ahead 22-21.
Departing fullback Ben Smith immediately scored to give the All Blacks a 28-22 lead in what seemed likely to be the last act of the match.
But the Wallabies came back again with a try to Beale and led 29-28.
With only three minutes left, the All Blacks regained possession from the kickoff and scrumhalf T.J. Perenara, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga and captain Kieran Read combined to create the winning try for Barrett.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said his players had showed huge character to come back repeatedly, extending their hold on the Bledisloe Cup into a 15th year.
“It was a great test match,” Hansen said. “Anyone who paid money to watch it should have loved it.
“Our set piece was really good and our scrum was what allowed us to get back in the game.”
Read said the All Blacks had stayed calm and struck at the right moment.
“That’s what the Bledisloe Cup is about, two great nations playing their hearts out,” he said. “We had to dig deep. Those are the games which hinge on certain moments and I guess we had one at the end there.”
The Wallabies showed great improvement on their performance last weekend when they were beaten by eight tries to four and by a record score.
They more than patched the holes in their defence. They revitalized their defensive game and gave the All Blacks few opportunities, though the teams eventually finished with five tries apiece.
The Wallabies’ attack was also enormously improved and their performance is likely to have lifted some of the gloom that has hung over Australian rugby after the poor performance of their Super Rugby teams this season and a series of administrative crises.
“It was close to a fantastic performance,” Hooper said. “We were fully confident to come down here and win.
“New Zealand were too good tonight and the pressure they applied both sides of halftime was fantastic.”
Folau set the tone for the Wallabies’ performance with his try after little more than 40 seconds, swooping on a pass by All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie and dashing 65 meters to score.
Hooper broke the defence from a lineout in the 11th minute and Genia, Australia’s inspiration, made a try for Foley four minutes later.
New Zealand’s scrum gave them a huge advantage in the middle stages of the game but the hosts made too many handling errors to fully capitalize. They had three tries disallowed, to winger Ioane, fullback Smith and lock Brodie Retallick, but remained composed and closed the gap with Aaron Smith’s try on the tick of halftime.
Barrett scored from a simple short side movement from a scrum in the 60th, giving the All Blacks a narrow lead and setting in motion the thrilling finale.
Genia made a brilliant individual break for his try, beating Ardie Savea and McKenzie, but Foley missed a vital conversion. Foley managed only two of six shots at goal, hitting the post on three occasions.
Smith, playing his last test of the season, scored the game’s best try after the All Blacks had held the ball through 22 phases in the 70th minute.
After Beale’s try, the All Blacks seemed down and out but again found the capacity to rebound, instantly making the winning try for Barrett.