Wallabies produce stirring performance, only lacking the cherry on top

Well that was entirely worth the wait.

Sunday afternoon's extraordinary Bledisloe Cup thriller won't be forgotten anytime soon after the Wallabies came to Sky Stadium with a plan to control the match like they haven't done in years, and finished some 88-and-a-half minutes later having done everything but break a 19-year drought on New Zealand soil.

In the end it finished 16-all.

Dave Rennie's first Test in charge of Australia should give their long-suffering supporters a huge sense of optimism for the future, after the Wallabies overcame the hurdles of quarantine and played over the top of an All Blacks side that had enjoyed the luxury of a home preparation and one that fired only a handful of shots -- one of which was a brilliant lineout set-play finished by Aaron Smith -- against their opponents.

But there will be a heartbreak in the Australian sheds, too, knowing that Reece Hodge's long-range penalty goal - it could have sailed over from 70 metres - just swayed at the last second to strike the right upright and then set in course a remarkable six further minutes that very nearly gave the hosts an escape route.

"We're disappointed," Rennie said post-match. "We're certainly not celebrating in the changerooms...we had our chances. I thought we played with a lot of courage."

An already-gripping contest - made even more dramatic by the squalls that drifted in late in Wellington - descended into one of the most chaotic closing sequences of Test rugby in living memory following Hodge's kick, before James O'Connor decided the Wallabies would rather settle for a draw than offer the All Blacks a third opportunity at victory.

Seven months after the Six Nations was halted due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Test rugby exploded back onto the sporting world with a contest that has added yet another dimension to a Bledisloe series that was already high on tension and narrative following a fractured few months of trans-Tasman rugby relations.

The Wallabies will, however, rightly see Sunday afternoon's game as a missed opportunity. Having controlled the match for long periods and then also only offered up the All Blacks sparing few opportunities, Rennie's men did enough to head to Eden Park next week up 1-0 in the best-of-four series in 2020.

But they will likely also feel the relief of the draw, too, given the All Blacks have made a habit of snatching games at the death throughout their 18-year run as holders of one of the biggest trophies in world sport.

What Rennie will be most proud of is the way his side settled into a game plan that was as far from predecessor Michael Cheika's approach as one might possibly imagine.

The box kick was back, in large numbers, as Australia played the swirling Wellington wind far better than New Zealand and gave Damian McKenzie all kinds of headaches at the back. A late inclusion for Beauden Barrett, McKenzie looked unsteady under the high balls throughout and was also unable to prevent Marika Koroibete from opening the Wallabies' try-scoring account for 2020 early in the second half.

As well as his box-kicking, Wallabies scrum-half Nic White sniped smartly from in behind the ruck, picking off backtracking All Blacks forwards when the situation presented. But he was also guilty of perhaps challenging the line once or twice too often, from which the All Blacks made him pay at the breakdown.

If there was a criticism of the Wallabies' game it was their inefficiency at the cleanout, both when they made contact and when they got the entry entirely wrong. Prop Taniela Tupou, who was excellent with ball in hand, missed his targets on several occasions and felt the wrath of referee Paul Williams as a result.

The Wallabies' lineout, too, was ugly for much of the first half, hooker Folau Fainga'a missing his jumpers and then also overthrowing when the All Blacks were hard on the attack midway through the first half. Australia's scrum also had its issues, but they were more around Williams' timing than technique as the local referee twice awarded the All Blacks free kicks.

The penalty count finished 14-7 in favour of the hosts and while the Wallabies could argue with few of those, Williams did miss a blatant side-entry and hands in the ruck from All Blacks replacement and debutant, Tupou Vaa'i, five phases after Hodge's penalty attempt had struck the post. It was as blatant an infringement - or even multiple infringements - as you will ever see.

Given what followed, however, it was hard to be too harsh on Williams as the breakdown largely became a mess in a frantic final sequence. O'Connor must have known as much when he resisted the opportunity to chance his arm one last time after almost nine minutes of overtime.

O'Connor had an unhappy night from the kicking tee, slotting only two from five, but he otherwise combined well with Matt To'omua in a playmaking combination that may have real merit for Australia.

And then there were the debutants who each shone on the big stage, none more-so than Filipo Daugunu who stepped inside and out, just as Rennie had claimed he would do so, even in a phonebox. The Fijian winger provided the finish for White's smart flick pass to grab a five-pointer in a superb Test debut that netted a 130 run metres. Daugunu will be around this Wallabies team for a long time.

Reds teammates Harry Wilson and Hunter Paisami were also solid, the back-rower shirking no work as the Wallabies forwards were required to empty their tanks on the carry such had been Australia's dominance of possession. Rebels lock Matt Philip was another to answer the challenge.

The review won't hold any surprised for Rennie's men and be a reminder that the All Blacks are unlikely to be off their game next Sunday in Auckland like they were in Wellington. Rieko Ioane's errant put-down after a butchered lineout set-move from the Wallabies, on the stroke of halftime, was indeed a fortunate reprieve. But perhaps there was a little justice in that, too, given Ioane had stepped into touch in the lead-up to Jordie Barrett's match-opening try.

That decision, or rather lack thereof, was ironically missed by Australian assistant referee Angus Gardner.

But the Wallabies should also take enormous confidence knowing that the Rennie blueprint genuinely troubled the All Blacks despite the Australians having little more than a fortnight to bed it down.

Challenges don't come any greater than beating the All Blacks at Eden Park as the assignment is in seven days' time. But for the first time in a long while that fixture won't be written off as a lost cause before the opening whistle has even been blown.

And that is a huge result for a Wallabies team embarking on what those on the western side of the Tasman Sea hope is a bold, brave, new era.

It certainly started with a stirring Australian effort, albeit one that lacked the absolute cherry on top.