A weekend of extraordinary comebacks – three games, two different sports, three stunning reversals.
But the results mean something very different to all three teams involved.
In Manchester, a club divided, and mid-table in the Premier League, put their differences aside to be United for 45 minutes to come back from 2-0 down to squeeze a 3-2 victory over a luckless Newcastle United.
And in far-flung Salta in Argentina, most remarkable of all, under-performing Australia came back from 31-7 down at half-time to defeat the Pumas 45-34 in the biggest comeback in Rugby Championship-history.
For New Zealand, there was more than a touch of inevitability about their comeback.
They have been the No1 team in the world now for well over a decade and this is just one of many extraordinary comebacks by an extraordinary team.
It was also more than justice after the Springboks held on for a fortunate victory in Wellington three weeks earlier.
But despite the victory, the All Blacks air of invincibility has taken a real battering in the two matches against the Boks.
At Loftus Versfeld, the great New Zealand side looked something they don’t appear very often – vulnerable.
The Boks made metres every time they carted the ball up and became increasingly more confident and bold with every passing moment.
The All Blacks missed a decidedly un-All Black like 16 tackles, with some of the misses very glaring indeed.
If not for two very strange substitutions by Boks coach Rassie Erasmus, who hauled off both hooker Malcolm Marx and scrum-half Faf de Klerk in the crucial final ten minutes, South Africa could have been celebrating a very rare double over the world champs.
Steve Hansen should not rejoice in this result. Yes the All Blacks did show character and strength of belief to comeback and snatch a victory, but the final five-minutes cannot undo the poor 75 minutes leading up to it.
And the final result was more to do with Erasmus’ curious substitutions and some extremely poor game management from the Springboks.
Eddie Jones in England and Joe Schmidt in Ireland will have been watching this game with considerable interest and both will now believe that they can physically dominate the All Blacks.
And if they do that, both sides could be celebrating victories in November.
The All Blacks do have the considerable presence of Brodie Retallick and Joe Moody to return to the squad, but the ineffectiveness of captain Kieran Read in Pretoria was a troubling sign. As was New Zealand’s definite susceptibility to the rush defence.
Another Springbok coach perfected a similar rush defence back in 2007, Jake White, and it led to his side claiming the Rugby World Cup that year after the All Blacks were surprise losers in the quarter-final to France. Could we see a similar sequence of events next year?
South Africa meet New Zealand in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup at Japan 2019, and at this stage you would not rule an upset out. Remembering no team that has ever lifted the Webb Ellis Cup has lost a match earlier in the tournament.
For the other two comeback kings from the weekend, the results were stays of executions for their respective coaches.
Rumours circulated before both kick-offs that a loss would signal the end of Jose Mourinho’s reign at United and Michael Cheika’s time with the Wallabies.
Cheika is now being hailed as an inspirational master with his explosive half-time team talk the supposed difference between the appalling “Wallopies” of the first half and the marauding Men of Gold in the second period.
What Mourinho said to his deflated superstars at half-time is anyone’s guess. But his tactical substitutions of Marouane Fellaini and match-winner Alexis Sanchez clearly made a difference in the second half.
The United players also seemed to play with a lot more spirit in the second half.
But if that was to do with the Old Trafford crowd, who remained supportive throughout, or their mercurial Portuguese manager is again hard to know.
The real question is whether these stunning comebacks although bringing short term joy, will cause more long-term pain.
One comeback, however spectacular, does not solve the clear issues both with United and the Wallabies. They will need to come up with a string of positive results before the question marks around both teams start to subside.
The only problem is both now face difficult fixtures in their next outings.
The Wallabies face their nemesis, the All Blacks, in Japan on October 27. The Red Devils travel to the in-form and impressive Chelsea a week earlier.
And losses in those matches, unlike the All Blacks, will have the memories of recent comebacks fading away very fast indeed.
New Zealand were 17 points down with 18 minutes to go against the Springboks but still found a way to win 32-30 while Australia were in an even deeper hole when 31-7 down at half-time before scoring five second half tries to record a stunning 45-34 victory.
The Wallabies lead our selections with six players, while the All Blacks and Boks both have four apiece. The fast fading Pumas have just one player selected – mobile flanker Pablo Matera.
Also showing the importance of the bench, two of our XV were second half substitutes but still did enough during their time on the field to get the nod.
1. Steven Kitshoff (SA)
Surprisingly good ball skills for a big man and he played a key role in several of the Boks tries with smooth linking work, six passes in all as well as five runs for 14 metres. Proved crucial at the scrum where the Boks won four scrums out of four.
2. Tolu Latu (Aus)
A controversial pick as he only came on at half-time and was sin-binned on 77 minutes, but in the 36 minutes he was on the field he changed the match with a huge presence in attack and defence. Set up a try for Folau and threw straight for five lineout wins. Mystery he doesn’t get more game time.
3. Owen Franks (NZ)
The All Blacks needed all of the veteran Crusaders strength and guile to hold back a rampant Boks’ pack at scrum time. New Zealand held firm to win nine scrums from nine with Franks not conceding a single penalty. He also worked hard in defence with nine tackles and just two misses.
4. Adam Coleman (Aus)
Very close with Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert knocking loudly on the door but the big Wallaby gets it thanks to his strong all-round game: three lineout wins, six passes, 11 take-ups for 18 metres, one defender beaten and even an offload. Contributed well in defence with 11 tackles and just three misses.
5. Scott Barrett (NZ)
A poor night for the All Blacks pack as they were outplayed physically for long sections of the game. But Barrett never gave up making 12 tackles and six runs for five metres. He also made a crucial 12 tackles and won five lineouts.
6. Michael Hooper (Aus)
Inspirational performance by the Australian captain in the second half, busy presence at the breakdown and a real threat in attack – seven passes, seven runs for 55 metres, two clean breaks and four defenders beaten, also made 13 tackles with two misses.
7. Pablo Matera (Arg)
Like the rest of the Pumas, the 25-year-old faded badly in the second half but was superb in the first period with a contender for try of the round in just the second minute as he burst through the Wallabies defence and ran round Will Genia. 12 rounds for 56 metres.
8. David Pocock (Aus)
Despite his team’s woeful first half performance the Wallabies No8 put in an eighty minute effort, with 18 tackles and just one miss. But its in attack where Pocock is really coming in to his own – 10 passes, 13 runs for 48 metres, two clean breaks, three defenders beaten and two offloads.
9. Faf de Klerk (SA) (PLAYER OF THE ROUND)
The blonde haired scrum-half was at the centre of everything good the Boks did and his substitution on 73 minutes changed the course of the match. Superb kicking game and he had the ball on a string all night. 61 passes and seven runs for 10 metres.
10. Richie Mo’unga (NZ)
Came on at 52nd minute mark with the All Blacks 23-6 down, managed the game beautifully to steer New Zealand to a famous victory, including the 60-metre touch finder to set up the winning try.
11. Rieko Ioane (NZ)
A quiet night for the Auckland man but still came up with a crucial try to spark the All Blacks revival on 62 minutes. Six runs for 48 metres, two clean breaks and three defenders beaten and also made eight tackles with two misses.
12. Damian de Allende (SA)
Combined superbly with his centre partner making metres at will every time he had the ball. Charged through some flimsy defence for the Boks third try. 12 runs for 54 metres, one clean break, five defenders beaten and an offload.
13. Jesse Kriel (SA)
Terrorised the All Blacks defence out wide, slicing through for the game’s opening try on 44 minutes. Seven runs for 66 metres, two clean breaks and two defenders beaten, also tidy in defence with three tackles and no misses
14. Israel Folau (Aus)
Not back to his best but there were encouraging signs as he cut through to score a try on 48 minutes to continue the Wallabies resurgence. Eight runs for 83 metres with three clean breaks, eight defenders beaten and one offload.
15. Dane Haylett-Petty (Aus)
Scored two second half tries to cap a strong all round game as the Wallabies came from 24 points down to snatch a miraculous victory. 125 metres made in attack with three clean breaks and four defenders beaten.
The Wallabies trailed by 24 points at the main break, with a try inside the opening two minutes by surging back rower Pablo Matera sparking a four-try first half blitz from the Pumas, who by the half time whistle had already registered their highest Test score against Australia.
Going into the dressing rooms at 31-7 down, the response from the men in gold was emphatic as they ran in five unanswered second half tries to run away with the most unlikely of victories. Australia outscored the Pumas 38 to 3 ijn the second period.
Putting a frantic and panicked first half performance behind them, the turnaround kicked-started four minutes after the break when Michael Hooper’s charge down close to the line gifted Izack Rodda his first Test try.
Israel Folau then chimed in on the act as he swerved through the middle and dotted down under the posts after the Wallabies had built 11 phases of attack. Another patient build-up three minutes later allowed Dane Haylett-Petty to cross for the first of his second half double.
An emotional Michael Cheika goes deep on where that Wallabies win came from 😪 https://t.co/tmBA4YZXij— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 7, 2018
A powerful effort from David Pocock, who cleaned up a loose ball and carried three defenders over the line, set up the first lead of the match for the visitors, and they never looked back. Pocock was again involved in Haylett-Petty’s second, turning the ball back to the Wallabies fullback after he had batted a Bernard Foley cross-field kick back inside.
The second half comeback was the largest ever in a Rugby Championship Test, and meant that the Wallabies avoided finishing in last position in the 2018 tournament.
Haylett-Petty took man of the match honours, but it was the Wallabies leaders who stood up when it mattered most and sparked a remarkable fightback.
Australia 45 (Dane Haylett-Petty 2, Michael Hooper, Izack Rodda, Israel Folau, David Pocock tries; Bernard Foley 6 cons; Bernard Foley pen) defeated Argentina 34 (Pablo Matera, Emiliano Boffelli, Jeronimo De la Fuente, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias tries; Nicolas Sanchez 2, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias 2 cons; Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias 2 pens)
AS IT HAPPENED:
2 mins: Pablo Matera try; Nicolas Sanchez con AUS 0-7 ARG
4 mins: Emiliano Boffelli try; Nicolas Sanchez con AUS 0-14 ARG
14 mins: Michael Hooper try; Bernard Foley con AUS 7-14 ARG
27 mins: Jeronimo De la Fuente try; Nicolas Sanchez con AUS 7-21 ARG
31 mins: Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias try; Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias con AUS 7-28 ARG
38 mins: Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias pen AUS 7-31 ARG
44 mins: Izack Rodda try; Bernard Foley con AUS 14-31 ARG
48 mins: Israel Folau try; Bernard Foley con AUS 21-31 ARG
51 mins: Dane Haylett-Petty try; Bernard Foley con AUS 28-31 ARG
61 mins: Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias pen AUS 28-34 ARG
63 mins: David Pocock try; Bernard Foley con AUS 35-34 ARG
66 mins: Dane Haylett-Petty try; Bernard Foley con AUS 42-34
75 mins: Bernard Foley pen AUS 45-34 ARG
77 mins: Tolu Latu yellow card
*replacements in brackets
Reserves: 16. Julian Montoya 17. Santiago Garcia Botta 18. Santiago Medrano 19. Matias Alemanno 20. Juan Manuel Leguizamon 21. Tomas Cubelli 22. Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias 23. Sebastian Cancelliere
First Australia-Argentina Test played in Salta
Izack Rodda – first Test try
Israel Folau becomes Australia’s leading tryscorer in The Rugby Championship (14)