The battered and bruised All Blacks listed Sonny Bill Williams as a possible starter against South Africa next week after he spent three months sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Concussion-prone Ryan Crotty was also declared fit to go, and lock Patrick Tuipulotu earned a recall on news that Brodie Retallick and Ngani Laumape would be out for several weeks after being injured in Saturday’s hard-fought 46-24 win over Argentina in Nelson.
Retallick could be out for up to six weeks with a shoulder injury while Laumape, brought into the squad as injury cover, faces missing three weeks with a damaged knee.
But coach Steve Hansen said Crotty and Sam Cane had recovered from head knocks suffered against Australia early in the Rugby Championship, while Rieko Ioane – recovering from a hamstring injury – and Williams were also in the frame for selection.
Williams, who missed the first two Tests against France in June following knee surgery, played 58 minutes of the third Test before injuring his shoulder and has been out of action ever since.
With back-up lock Luke Romano already down with a calf strain, Tuipulotu got his recall after last playing for the All Blacks in November last year.
The towering lock scored three tries in a provincial match over the weekend in what was his first game since injuring a shoulder in May.
The All Blacks’ six-tries-to-three win over Argentina kept them well in front in the Rugby Championship, with 15 points from three bonus-point wins.
South Africa, Argentina and Australia have one win each, with South Africa second on the table courtesy of two bonus points.
This will go down as one the most courageous victories in Wallabies history.
Here’s our report card from the battle of Brisbane.
Powerful bench: With the Springboks leading 18-17 at half time and holding the physical upper-hand, the introduction of some youthful power from Wallabies replacements Folau Faingaa and Taniela Tupou turned the game Australia’s way. Tupou especially made a huge difference at scrum-time with Australia’s pack winning some big scrums in the closing stages.
Siya Kolisi: The Springbok captain was an inspiration for the tourists and the most dangerous runner on the park. He made a game-high 33 metres from eight runs, with one clean break, seven defenders beaten and even one offload. Kolisi was constantly lurking on the fringes waiting for that half gap to exploit. Defensively he also did a job with seven tackles made and none missed.
Backline cohesion: With such a patchwork Wallabies side, plus three late changes, there was always going to be a settling-in period but with a week to practice the backs should have had more fluidity. Kurtley Beale played a lot more direct than the man he replaced (Bernard Foley) usually does and with that knowledge Reece Hodge, Matt Toomua and Marika Koroibete should have been camped on his shoulder to exploit any opening.
Springboks mistakes: If the loss to Argentina in Mendoza was embarrassing, it’s hard to imagine how South African coach Rassie Erasmus will describe this one. The Boks were totally in control in the first half and dominated overall possession (56 per cent) and territory (60 per cent). A combination of poor attacking (11 handling errors to just four from the Wallabies) and defensive mistakes allowed the Wallabies to snatch it.
2 mins: Wallabies start brightly. A good break from Lukhan Tui down the left sets up a ruck just metres out from the Boks’ line. Australia stay patient and Michael Hooper dives over for the opening try.
15 mins: Too easy for the Boks. They set up a lineout close to the Wallabies line, then go for the rolling maul and stroll over. Bongi Mbonambi comes up with the five-pointer.
29 mins: Now it’s the Boks’ turn to attack close to the Wallabies line. South Africa stay patient and after the forwards suck in the defenders Faf de Klerk goes wide with a pinpoint pass to Makazole Mapimpi, who dives over.
33 mins: Madness from the Boks. A lineout close to their line and Mbonambi goes for the long throw. It skids away from Kolisi on the slippery Brisbane turf and straight into the arms of Matt Toomua who collects and slides under the posts.
39 mins: Wallabies have a defensive scrum five metres out but the Boks turn on the power and win a penalty, which Elton Jantjies lands. Important points just before half-time.
44 mins: Will Genia breaks and sets up play on the Boks’ line. Jack Maddocks is stopped inches short and the ball comes the other way to Rob Simmons who knocks on. Big chance missed for Wallabies.
48 mins: Another scrum five metres out and the Wallabies throw everything at the South African line but somehow the Boks hold on. Eben Etzebeth takes an intercept to clear the danger.
54 mins: A Toomua penalty goal puts the Wallabies in front but three points are scant reward for 88 per cent possession since half time.
61 mins: The Wallabies time to defend on their own line and the Boks look set to score but Elton Jantjies grubbers it through and it’s too long – the ball dribbles into touch.
66 mins: Incorrect call on Folau Fainga’a for a crooked throw – his second in a row. But from the resulting scrum the Wallabies win a penalty as Tupou dominates. Toomua nicks another three points.
77 mins: Francois Louw looks like he’s scored for the Boks but it’s called back for a tiny knock-on in the lead up by the TMO. Wallabies clinging to their lead.
80+ mins: It comes down to the last scrum five metres out, right in front of the Wallabies’ posts. The Boks go to the right and De Klerk’s pass is intercepted by Foley. Beale boots it into touch. Wallabies celebrate a heroic victory.
TACTICAL TURNING POINTS
The Springboks were confident that they were more powerful upfront, especially with the late withdrawal of Adam Coleman, and that proved to be the case – at least in the first half.
South Africa sought the contact while the Wallabies tried to play an up-tempo ball-in-hand game. But Australia, especially with so many changes and the greasy conditions, did not have the combination or skills to play an All Blacks brand of rugby.
The Wallabies fought hard to stay in the game and in the second half it was surprisingly Australia’s bench, with big contributions from young front-rowers Fainga’a and Tupou, that turned the tide.
Australia’s scrum in the second half was a different beast to the first and made a crucial contribution at the death.
For simple guts Australia get full marks. To lose three of your top stars – David Pocock on the day before the game, and Coleman and Israel Folau on match day itself, and still win: hats off to Messrs Cheika and Hooper. Courageous effort.
It will be hard for Rassie Erasmus to find anything worthwhile in this performance. Mapimpi’s try was well taken but the school-boy mistake to gift Toomua his try was comical and kept the Wallabies in the game at a crucial point. Error-strewn.
The win means the All Blacks remain unbeaten after the third round of the Championship.
A brief spurt before half-time and again in the closing minutes made the difference for Steve Hansen’s men against an unpredictable Pumas attack.
It marked the first time the All had played a Test in Nelson, nearly 150 years after the city hosted the historic first game of rugby in New Zealand, and they did that by outscoring the Pumas six tries to three to claim the bonus point.
But it did not come easy against an Argentina side boosted by a convincing win over South Africa and who were ahead 7-3 after 15 minutes in their search for a first ever win over New Zealand.
But, before a capacity crowd of 21,400, they could not handle the All Blacks trade mark closing burst which produced two late converted tries.
It meant Argentina’s dismal record against the All Blacks slumped to one draw and 26 losses from 27 Tests and they are closing in on the unwanted record of the team to play the most matches against New Zealand without a win – currently held by Scotland on 31.
Richie Mo’unga put the All Blacks on the board in the second minute via a penalty.
Much had been made of Mo’unga getting a start at fly-half in only his second Test but it was flanker Shannon Frizell, on his first start, who made the biggest impact with his powerful running around the ruck.
A triple injury blow in the ninth minute for the All Blacks saw Ben Smith, Ngani Laumape (knee) and Brodie Retallick (shoulder) leave the field to be replaced by Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown and Sam Whitelock.
In the 10 minutes it took Smith to return from his head injury assessment both sides had scored tries and the All Blacks were back in front 10-7.
Ramiro Moyano put Argentina briefly in front when he stepped around Mo’unga, TJ Perenara and Codie Taylor to score, while a Frizell rampage paved the way for Nehe Milner-Skudder to reply for the All Blacks.
Perenara extended the lead to 15-7 with a try diving around the side of a ruck, and when Matias Moroni was denied a try for Argentina when his foot brushed the touchline amid a superb Perenara tackle, Mo’unga ended the half with a second penalty for the All Blacks.
Nicolas Sanchez scored and converted to get Argentina within four points before Smith opened the lead with a try.
A penalty given away by Sanchez brought Perenara’s second try and when Sanchez put Emiliano Boffelli in to score in reply, the All Blacks came back with one through Frizell.
With time up, Jack Goodhue crashed over for the All Blacks’ sixth and bonus point try.