Former Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom wryly observed before a 2011 Test at Eden Park that he had “never met any ghosts out there”, but there has certainly been a graveyard these past 36 years, and it now has a new headstone.
While a try in the final moment by Jordan Petaia helped spare the Wallabies the possibility of a record defeat at the Auckland ground, it was scant consolation for another ill-disciplined performance which reflected a side sorely lacking in composure and leadership.
This latest chapter was Australia’s 22nd consecutive defeat at the venue since Alan Jones’s Bledisloe winners of 1986, with the 40-14 scoreline indicative of a gap that is getting no closer, given the average margin of success for New Zealand before tonight rested at 18 points.
The dispiriting nature of the performance, and the scoreline, suggests Australia are drifting yet further away.
This is despite the damning statistical evidence confirming that, with six losses in less than 12 months, the current edition of the All Black are the worst of the professional era – exceeding even the class of 1998 who lost five in a row.
If the motivation in the first Bledisloe Test was to avoid becoming the New Zealand side who loses the trophy after two decades of trans-Tasman supremacy, this mission was about ensuring against becoming the nation’s first losers at Eden Park in 27 years, an undefeated sequence made up of 45 wins and two draws.
A totally dominant first 30 minutes featuring Will Jordan’s fourth try in as many matches against Australia, along with a penalty try, two yellow cards and a host of other created but missed opportunities pretty much summed up the state of both teams. Still, the hosts raced to a 17-0 half-time advantage to virtually ensure the Eden Park record was not under threat.
Tries by skipper Sam Whitelock and hooker Codie Taylor after the break pushed it out to 32-0, with seemingly the only issue left being by how much they could win, and how hard could they make it for South Africa to catch them on points differential for the Rugby Championship title.
That awareness meant they were happy, while ahead 37-7, to take a penalty goal with three minutes remaining. Petaia’s late try, and that by Folau Fainga’a 20 minutes earlier, were arguably worth more to South Africa than the Wallabies.
South Africa host Argentina today knowing they must take a bonus point and win by at least 39 points if they are to add this year’s title to their recent Rugby World Cup and British and Irish Lions series wins.
Australia, meanwhile, are left contemplating a competition of chances missed, decisively beaten in each of the return games after having edged their three rivals first time up.
Already ninth on the World Rugby rankings, down from sixth when Rennie inherited the team, his success rate has now plunged to an absurd 38%, due in large part to a lack of discipline that sometimes defies belief.
The Wallabies have now conceded 22 yellow and red cards from the 29 Tests on his watch.
The three yellow cards in Melbourne contributed significantly to that loss.
Two again here did not help although, such was the All Blacks’ superiority, it is doubtful the Wallabies could have stayed with them even if it had been 15 on 15 for the full 80 minutes.
For the All Blacks, while not removing the stains of the historic losses to Ireland and Argentina, the win at least allows the Ian Foster’s side to level up their home record for the year to 50%.
The final judgement on the season now rests on their November assignments, and most especially 19 November at Twickenham, with a win over Eddie Jones’s England required improve an unsatisfactory year.