SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian rugby finally has something to cheer about after a torrid period with pundits saying on Monday (Oct 12) that their gutsy draw against the All Blacks in Wellington shows "brighter days may lie ahead".
The Wallabies went into Sunday's Bledisloe Cup opener with a new coach, Dave Rennie, and uncertainty about how their young line-up would fare in their first outing since a disappointing quarter-final exit at the World Cup in Japan almost exactly a year ago.
But the thrilling fashion in which they battled back to clinch a 16-16 draw, and created opportunities to win during a breathless finale, garnered applause and even optimism that they can pull off a rare upset in Auckland next weekend.
National broadcaster ABC said the "epic 16-16 draw with New Zealand provided evidence brighter days may lie ahead for the Wallabies".
"It was not a flawless performance from the Wallabies but there were enough positives to give Rennie hope his side can win the second Bledisloe Cup Test next Sunday at Auckland's Eden Park," it added.
It is a big call, with Eden Park impenetrable for the Wallabies since they last tasted victory there more than 30 years ago.
New Zealander Rennie has introduced a more tactical approach than the running game of his much-criticised predecessor Michael Cheika, who resigned after the World Cup exit to England.
And he had no fear in unleashing three debutants at Wellington, with Filipo Daugunu, who scored Australia's second try, Hunter Paisami and Harry Wilson all impressing.
The Australian newspaper said the signs were encouraging.
"What had lit up Sky Stadium on a gloomy afternoon was the shining appreciation by the Wallabies that they understand rugby is more than a one-dimensional run-at-all-costs game," it said, in a dig at Cheika's philosophy.
"Australia played wide, Australia played close, Australia kicked, Australia ran with purpose. And there wasn't a single member of the starting side that would want to have the game over."
The gritty draw will help Rugby Australia put a horror 18 months behind them, during which the Wallabies slumped to seventh in the world, Cheika left acrimoniously and chief executive Raelene Castle and other senior figures resigned.
The Covid-19 shutdown added to the game's financial strains, already struggling after reaching a multi-million dollar settlement with star player Israel Folau after his sacking for homophobic comments.
The Sydney Morning Herald cautioned that New Zealand will be fuming at failing to win, but praised the Wallabies for being "the better side".
"Of course, there is a backlash coming. Of course, the All Blacks will be better at Eden Park next week," it said.
"But Rennie will probably tinker with his line-up and add a few more elements too. Allow yourselves to feel good, Wallabies fans, because there is more to come."