One of the most pleasing things for new Test coach Dave Rennie was the disappointment in the Wallabies changeroom after their 16-16 Bledisloe Cup draw in Wellington. Smashed 36-0 by the All Blacks the last time they played in New Zealand and without a win there in 19 years, a draw would have satisfied most Wallabies teams of late.

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But Rennie, who took over from Michael Cheika after their World Cup disappointment, described it as a missed opportunity given their second-half dominance.

With three more Tests to play in the series, the next at Auckland’s Eden Park, the Wallabies only need to win their two matches at home to take the Bledisloe Cup trophy back after an 18-year absence.

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“There’s three Tests left – we had to win three anyway and now we have to win two – so from that perspective it’s not a bad result but we’re certainly not satisfied with the draw,” Rennie said.

“We’ve had three weeks together and we will get a lot better but we know the All Blacks will be a lot better next week too. We’re disappointed as we had a chance today and didn’t take it so we’re certainly not celebrating in the change-room.”

The Kiwi coach has restored confidence in the players battered by years of trans-Tasman beat-downs, while the injection of new blood has also revived the Australian troops.

Their game plan troubled the All Blacks and their ability to change tactics to suit the wet and windy conditions also showed their growth.

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But Rennie was quick to highlight areas for improvement.

Apart from their game management in not going for a match-winning drop goal, he said their discipline – giving away 14 penalties – and work at the breakdown needed to improve

“We saw last year where the Wallabies hammered the All Blacks in Perth and then lost 36-0 the following week,” he said.

“For us it’s got to be how we back-up. What I liked seeing is the disappointment in the guys in the change-room.”

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Rennie’s home town of Upper Hutt is just out of Wellington and he said his New Zealand-based family were now on board with the Wallabies.

 

“It was pretty special for me personally as I had my three sons and partners, two grand-daughters, all wearing yellow and that impressed me. But in the end it’s about the team and I’m really proud of the effort.”

And while he didn’t deliver the Wallabies a winning drop goal, James O’Connor still earned high praise from coach Rennie in his return as Test five-eighth.

The 30-year-old hasn’t worn the Wallabies No.10 jersey since 2013, in the final British and Irish Lions Test in Sydney, but was rewarded for his stellar Super Rugby AU season, and he didn’t let Rennie down.

Playing his first Test in the halves alongside Nic White, O’Connor put the All Blacks defence on edge with his footwork and passing game.

He set up Australia’s first try with a long ball out to a flying Marika Koroibete which started their fightback from a 13-3 deficit.

And there were shades of 2011 when O’Connor stepped up in the 73rd minute to slot a penalty – at the same venue where he kicked Australia to a 11-9 World Cup quarter-final victory over the Springboks.

This time their opponents were able to level to claim the draw but it wasn’t from a lack of effort from the Wallabies.

Given the scoreline and O’Connor’s performance Rennie wasn’t able to give rising star Noah Lolesio his Test debut.

“I thought Rabs (O’Connor) was excellent,” Rennie said.

“I thought he controlled the game really well. It would have been nice if he’d got a better ball to slot a drop goal late but I think he’s going well.”

Making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2008, the golden boy of Australian rugby went off the tracks and became more known for his exploits off the field.

But O’Connor turned his life around while playing in Europe in 2018 and has been welcomed back into the Wallabies fold.

“I’ve been really impressed with him – he’s really matured and is very comfortable in his own skin,” Rennie said.

“He understands our game and he’s driven and very disciplined and so he’s made great shifts.”

Making his return to Test rugby last year O’Connor said it still felt an “honour” to be back in the gold jersey

“I’ve reflected on where I’ve come from in the last five or so years and I won’t forget what it felt like to be out and then coming back into the light,” O’Connor said.

“I vocalised it earlier in the year that I did run away from that 10 jersey after the Lions series and I feel like I did stunt my evolution as a player and a person so to be able to go out there and be my truth and play the way I was born to play, was very fulfilling.

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