New Zealand 26-24 Australia: Kiwis hold on to stun Kangaroos
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 13/10/18 2:41pm
New Zealand will fly to England next week with their tails up after pulling off an upset victory over world champions Australia in Auckland.
The Kiwis overturned a 12-8 half-time deficit at Mount Smart Stadium to beat the new-look Kangaroos 26-24 and deliver a first success for coach Michael Maguire, along with a first defeat for Australia's Mal Meninga.
New Zealand, who failed to reach the knockout stages of the 2017 World Cup and lost 36-18 to England in Denver in Maguire's first match in charge in June, led 26-12 until Australia grabbed two late consolation tries to provide a final scoreline that flattered them.
The Kiwis were bolstered by the return of a host of experienced players, most notably playmaker Shaun Johnson, and a crop of exciting newcomers led by centre Joseph Manu and hooker Brandon Smith, who both scored tries in outstanding debuts.
It was also a changing of the guard for Australia as they began a new era without Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater yet they made the perfect start, with winger Valentine Holmes going over on the overlap for the opening try inside three minutes.
Debutant centre Latrell Mitchell then twice split open the Kiwis' right-sided defence but New Zealand withstood the early onslaught and Johnson and Kodi Nikorima began to take control of the game.
Left winger Ken Maumalo had one try disallowed and was recalled for a forward pass before finishing off a sustained spell of pressure on the Kangaroos line, thanks largely to a remarkable pass through his legs by captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Meninga was forced to reshuffle his side after losing debutant stand-off Luke Keary with concussion and the home side went in front six minutes before the break when Manu crashed over for their second try.
Johnson was again wide with the conversion attempt and Watene-Zelezniak had a try disallowed before New Zealand suffered a cruel blow 40 seconds before the break when centre Tom Trbojevic broke clear to get winger Dane Gagai over for the Kangaroo's second try, which Holmes converted to make it 12-8.
Undeterred, New Zealand went on to dominate the second half, with Smith forcing his way over from dummy half to level the scores before jinking runs from Johnson created the space for three quarters Esan Masters and Jordan Rapana to touch down.
Johnson converted all three second-half tries and Smith had a second try disallowed before a late Australia rally brought them two tries in the last five minutes through second rower Felise Kaufusi and full-back James Tedesco.
While the Kiwis now prepare for a three-match Test series in England, the Kangaroos must quickly regroup in time to face Tonga at Mount Smart next Saturday.