It was an all too familiar scene for the Wallabies and their fans. The All Blacks lifting the Bledisloe Cup high in the air, cheering their 18th straight series triumph after a Halloween horror show at ANZ Stadium.
For many long-suffering Wallabies fans there was genuine hope and belief that this youthful side would push the series to a decider next Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Instead, they witnessed a razor-sharp All Blacks put on a wet weather clinic and secure a record-breaking 43-5 win. While the New Zealanders celebrate, the Aussies return to an old place - the drawing board.
Despite new coach Dave Rennie stating ahead of the series that he wouldn't be throwing too many rookies into the test cauldron all at once, those plans went out the window ahead of Bledisloe III. Injuries played their part and put him in a tough position, and so the Wallabies played their first debutant 10-12 combination against the All Blacks since 1947. The Aussie backline was so green there was a total of just six Tests between fly-half Noah Lolesio, centres Irae Simone and Jordan Petaia, and wing Filipo Daugunu.
It was this inexperience that was so easily exposed. Just minutes into the match Daugunu was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle and never really recovered from the early mistake. Defensively Lolesio was caught out several times, his kicking aimless and he crucially put the ball dead when looking for touch following a penalty in the 61st minute. Simone and Petaia also produced a mix of gold dust and dirt -- Petaia's 40-metre tackle-busting run leading to Lolesio's try his only true highlight of the evening.
But the Wallabies woeful performance can't all be blamed on the greenness of their backline; there were inaccuracies across the park. The set-piece wasn't up to scratch, there were too many loose carries and unsighted passes, and a defence that was at some points shambolic - they missed 19 tackles all up -- while the kicking was poor.
After years of Michael Cheika's game plan which revolved around the Wallabies simply not kicking at all, sometimes to their own detriment, this series has shown Rennie has flipped the switch and now the Aussies are kicking again, but too often while under pressure and poorly executed.
The inexperience played its part, but the Wallabies just weren't effective with their kicking and haven't been for some time.
The Aussies held just 33 percent possession in the first half, but kicked the ball 10 times. Twice when playing in the All Blacks half, and with a man-up, they put boot to ball instead of keeping it in hand. It was mindless.
As they kicked aimlessly, constantly giving away possession, the All Blacks, in contrast, demonstrated just how valuable a well-executed kicking game could be. Putting it on the boot almost twice as much as the Wallabies -- 29 times compared to 15 -- the New Zealanders put receivers under pressure, found grass and constantly pushed the Aussies back into their own half.
"We just played to the weather really, putting up high balls, building pressure, trying to suffocate them in their own 50," All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo'unga said post match. "Especially the weather that we had it's really tough to play."
Like every year, the All Blacks taught the Wallabies a crucial lesson on how important execution is.
Two minutes into the second half though, the Wallabies showed what they could do with ball in hand. Pouncing on a loose ball inside the All Blacks half, the Aussies kept their cool and quickly spread the ball through the backline. Unlike the first half, which saw Simone toeing it through in a similar situation, this time he held the ball, timed the perfect pass to Petaia who slotted through the gap, bumped off defenders before he was taken down metres from the line. Following through and eyeing the gap, the rookie fly-half Lolesio finished off the play collecting the pass and charging through for the Wallabies only points of the night.
It was easily the best of the two highlights of the match for the Wallabies -- the second being Marika Koroibete's incredible try-saving effort in the early minutes of the first half. But those moments were overshadowed, and rightfully so.
"What we talked about at half time was just trying to build some pressure and for 20 minutes we actually played really well," Rennie said post match. "But 20 minutes of competitive footy is nowhere near enough against the All Blacks. There was certainly a gulf between the two performances tonight."
So where to next? The Wallabies have just one week and what appears to be so much to learn before they take on the All Blacks again. While James O'Connor is set to be available for the final Bledisloe Test, the return of one experienced head won't change much. Rennie said post match "we need to respond immediately" and so we return to the drawing board, a place we've been so many times before.