BRISBANE (Reuters) - When the Wallabies gave up eight unanswered tries to go 54-6 down after 48 minutes of the opening Bledisloe Cup test against the All Blacks in August it looked like their losing streak against the world champions was destined to go on a long time.
In the event it was snapped at seven matches on a rain-drenched night in Brisbane on Saturday when a battling performance from the Australians confirmed a growing feeling of self-confidence in Michael Cheika’s squad.
Cheika has overseen an overhaul of the squad which started that losing streak in the 2015 World Cup final and weathered a barrage of criticism as the sport which the team represents has endured a largely miserable year both on and off the field.
“I‘m especially happy for the fans, they’ve supported us since the World Cup through lots of defeats to New Zealand and the boys worked hard for this one,” Cheika said.
“I know we didn’t win the Cup, which is disappointing because I know how much we want it back here, but before the game I said you’ve got to fight for everything. I thought we did tonight and we were able to get the win.”
Steadfast defence was as much responsible for the victory as the three tries the Australians scored but Cheika was delighted with the way his players continued to have a go at the All Blacks throughout the 23-18 victory.
“I think it’s the only way to put pressure on these guys. They’re so dominant in all the structured parts of the game,” he added.
“I felt like we had the fight in us tonight, we really wanted it, and so I trusted them to get the job done regardless.”
Cheika, whose squad will take a five-match unbeaten run to Japan and then on to Europe next month, was not getting carried away with the victory, his second as coach against the All Blacks.
“Mate, we might be improving but we’re still number three (in the world), having only just got back there,” he said.
“You can’t rest until you get back to the top. One win against the world champions doesn’t win you anything...”
The match at Lang Park was the last test on home soil for hooker and former captain Stephen Moore, who won his 125th cap as a second-half replacement.
The 34-year-old, who will retire after the November tour, has won six and lost 24 of his encounters with New Zealand and said the 23-18 victory could prove a watershed for the Wallabies.
“I’ve been in a lot of teams and this is a good side,” he said. “I think tonight was a big moment for this side. This has got the bones of an excellent team.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Ed Osmond