Australia looked destined to emerge from two weeks of turmoil over the Kurtley Beale saga with a famous victory until centre Malakai Fekitoa crossed for New Zealand’s fourth try, which replacement stand-off Colin Slade converted.
A second blow followed after the final whistle when McKenzie, under fire for his role in the Beale affair, said he was walking away from the job after 15 months in charge.
Stand-off or full-back Beale was carpeted after a row with Wallabies business manager Di Patston and allegedly sending her “deeply offensive” text messages. Patston has since quit and McKenzie has been forced to deny having an affair with her.
“My intention was to resign win, lose or draw,” McKenzie said. “I’ve been unhappy with a bunch of things. The easiest thing for me is to exit stage left. I’ll leave you guys to speculate or ponder. I’ll write a chapter in my book.”
In yesterday’s game, winger Cory Jane and hooker Dane Coles scored for the visitors in the first half and scrum-half Aaron Smith’s 69th-minute try kept the All Blacks in a thrilling game.
Tries from half-backs Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley in the first half and one after the break from winger Adam Ashley-Cooper, playing in his 100th Test, were Australia’s reward for a performance of rare intensity.
The Bledisloe Cup was already lost for another year, but this could have been a win the Wallabies would have cherished after defeats to South Africa and Argentina in their last two outings.
The All Blacks were also coming off a loss – to South Africa two weeks ago –and they were determined to avoid losing two Tests in a row for the first time since 2011.
The Wallabies scored first in the 12th minute when centre Christian Lealiifano found a gap for a 30-metre break and Phipps went over from close range.
Foley converted, but the All Blacks’ counter-punch took seconds, centre Conrad Smith claiming the re-start before No.8 Kieran Read put Jane over in the corner.
Foley gave the Wallabies a 10-7 lead after 32 minutes with his first penalty, but again the All Blacks hit straight back, hooker Coles charging through a huge gap in Australia’s defence to touch down. Beauden Barrett missed an easy conversion and Australia hit back immediately, Foley pouncing from close range to dot down in the corner and give his side a 15-12 half-time lead.
Three minutes after the break they extended the lead to 22-12 with a converted try from winger Ashley-Cooper.
Barrett cut the deficit to seven points with a penalty after 54 minutes, but Foley kicked his second four minutes later, and from the re-start All Blacks replacement Patrick Tuipulotu was sin-binned for tackling Rob Simmons in the air.
The All Blacks scored next, though, Smith going over to reduce the lead to 25-22. Replacement scrum-half Nic White then extended the Wallabies’ lead by another three points three minutes from time, but the All Blacks pounded away until Fekitoa found a gap.
“So tough, to be winning until the bell is gutting,” said Wallabies captain Michael Hooper.
“But it’s a step up from where we were, and it’s a test of character to come out and put on the performance we did.”