Wallabies win could be beginning of new era
HE who laughs last, laughs longest.
The Bledisloe Cup will remain across the ditch for at least another year, after the All Blacks' last-gasp win over the Wallabies in Dunedin back in August.
But on the eve of the third and final Bledisloe Test of the year in Brisbane, there is some truth to that earlier phrase.
To put a spin on Paul Keating's 1993 one-liner that "this is the recession Australia needed to have," the Wallabies' shellacking in Sydney eight weeks ago was the loss they needed to have.
On the back of an 0-26 record against New Zealand opposition in Super Rugby this year, their 54-34 defeat in Bledisloe I was as humiliating as they come.
It was rock bottom for the men in gold.
It confirmed that Australian rugby was in crisis and there was nowhere to hide.
Not even their four unanswered second-half tries could mask their miserable performance.
Consequently, at $13, the Wallabies were at the longest odds in Bledisloe history ahead of their second encounter.
But some brutal self-assessment and old-fashioned hard work after the Sydney loss led to significant improvement.
They went one kick restart away from recording a famous win in New Zealand's south.
But, with each passing Test, the Wallabies have improved and are undefeated in their last four matches with two wins and two draws against Argentina and South Africa respectively.
It's hardly a record to get too excited about.
But while they remain outsiders ahead of Saturday's Test, the gap between the trans-Tasman rivals has narrowed.
The absence of New Zealand's big two - Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick - helps the Wallabies too.
The duo have won two of the last three world player of the year awards, and their absence comes off the back of injuries to props Owen Franks and Joe Moody, as well as dazzling outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder.
A win for the Wallabies could very well represent the start of a new era.
Already Australia is returning to four Super Rugby franchises.
Regardless of whether the right or wrong team was punted, it has been proven that Australian rugby can, at most, only support four competitive teams.
That can only benefit the Wallabies.
Nor can you underestimate the effect a Bledisloe win would have on Australia's Super Rugby franchises.
The belief the players would gain from knocking off the All Blacks and then taking back to their clubs would be enormous.
It would also be a major boost for Australian audiences ahead of 2018, which have continued to slide with each passing loss.
At the same time, a Wallabies win would see the All Blacks lose twice in a calendar year for the first time since 2011 and be their third defeat in the space of 12 months, after their historic maiden loss to Ireland in Chicago last November.