On Wednesday I flew from Wellington to Melbourne to join All Blacks Tours for the first Bledisloe match at Marvel Stadium. Yes, the one with that final call from referee Mathieu Raynal.
The sun was setting as I collected my bags and I took the Sky Bus to the city, staying at the Marriott Docklands.
On Thursday we had breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Archer’s, before heading out to do some shopping. The hotel is within the free tram zone, so along with the Docklands shops and Melbourne Star on our doorstep, almost everything else is a short journey, including DFO, a great spot for high-end bargains.
All Blacks Tours had planned a late long lunch at All Smiles, within view of Marvel Stadium, and just a five minute walk from the hotel. Food kept coming, the bar was open, and there were interviews with former sporting stars, including Mils Muliaina, Karl Te Nana, and Tim Horan.
We walked as a group to Marvel Stadium, shortly after gates opened, past the Captain America, Hulk and Captain Marvel signage. Tickets were checked at ground level and again on Level 2 as we made our way to our seats. Perfectly positioned in the front row, near the try line where the infamous moment would happen in the second half.
A cultural performance, flashing lights and fireworks, anthems and haka before kick off. NZ already has one hand on the cup, being the current holders. We’re off to a good start with a converted try and penalty. There’s a missed one in there too though. And then its a penalty and converted try to the Wallabies… and the first yellow card. Two more follow before the break.
The second half restarts at 10-10 with another yellow and seven tries to come, including the winning dot down for Jordie Barrett.
It was always going to be one of those matches. Four yellow cards in total. Three of those to Australia. One should have been a red. NZ probably deserved a card for tipping a player too.
The All Blacks had been up 34-27 after 71 minutes. Then it all went Australia’s way. Until it didn’t.
A converted try. All tied up at 34-34. Six minutes to go.
A penalty. 37-34 to Australia.
All Blacks fans think back to Jordie’s missed penalty in the first half. To Australia’s yellow card that should have been a red. To every error made so far. All the referee’s decisions we disagreed with.
The All Blacks get a penalty. It’s at this moment I think again that I’d be happy with a draw. But of course, they go for the corner. Coles has it… but too long, holding on. It’s over. There’s only a minute on the clock. Too late, Foley is going to run out the clock. All Blacks fans are screaming time wasting. We’re all screaming.
And then it happens. The whistle is blown, the All Blacks are given a scrum. Time wasting. The same vocal reaction from Wallabies and All Blacks fans, but for different reasons.
The All Blacks have a chance to win. It’s Australia’s to lose now.
A couple of goes at the line, and penalty advantage. It goes wide and Jordie is over! The crowd is going wild – again split between between black and gold. While the Kiwis jump up and down, the Aussie’s start to throw items on the field. Those who were at hospitality and had yellow seat covers with “Wallaby First” on them, are sending them flying through the air and landing near where security had been standing moments earlier. They continue to soar during the missed conversions, the Bledisloe Cup presentation, and the All Blacks parading the cup around the field.
There is sympathy from NZ fans. We’ve been there. Hell, we’re still not over the underarm bowl. Although there was no ref to blame then.
And so it’s onto Bledisloe II a week later. Too late to take the cup, Australia. But a win at Eden Park. That’s a prize in itself.
For me, it was a great match, certainly a memorable one, and at a stadium I was thrilled to be at simply for the name in lights on the side of it.