Mo'unga says Wallabies 'better' side, Hodge haunted by penalty miss

Wellington (AFP) –


All Blacks playmaker Richie Mo'unga conceded Monday that the Wallabies were the better team in the drawn Bledisloe Cup opener over the weekend, while Australia's Reece Hodge lamented the missed penalty that cost his side victory.

The southern hemisphere heavyweights fought out a 16-16 draw in Wellington on Sunday, ending international rugby's pandemic-enforced shutdown with a Test match hailed as an instant classic.

Fly-half Mo'unga was full of praise for the Wallabies, who entered the match as underdogs but came within the width of a goalpost of recording a major upset to mark new coach Dave Rennie's first match in charge.

"I think they were a little bit better because they imposed themselves on us a little bit more," Mo'unga told reporters.

"We didn't have the ball much, and when we did we gave it away."

With the score level at 16-16 after the final siren had sounded and the All Blacks on the attack, Mo'unga said he positioned himself for a match-winning drop goal but the ball never came his way.

"I dropped into the pocket, but momentum had us and we looked likely to score, so a drop kick wasn't in the question," he said.

"Had Jordie (Barrett) had got the pass... we wouldn't really be talking about drop kicks, but it definitely was on my mind."

Hodge, meanwhile, said he hadn't been able to sleep easily Sunday night, haunted by the penalty from 55 metres out that would have sealed victory for the Wallabies as the clock ticked past 80 minutes.

The replacement wing's booming kick was easily long enough, but it thumped into the upright.

- 'Broken sleep' -

Mo'unga described the kick attempt as "pretty awesome" in Wellington's swirling wind and rain, although Hodge admitted he was "beating himself up" over the miss.

"It was a bit of a broken sleep last might, I've probably replayed it hundreds of times by now," the Melbourne Rebels back said.

"Obviously it was pretty swirly wind. In the warm-up they (kicks) were going everywhere, left, right... I aimed it just inside the left post, just outside would have been a bit better.

"But I hit it as well as I could have and was kind of praying when it was in the air."

While pundits have praised the Wallabies for restoring Australian pride following a difficult period for the code both on and off the pitch, Hodge said the players were disappointed with the draw.

He said Rennie's men were full of belief and would be working hard to improve on the result in the next Test at Auckland's Eden Park on Sunday.

"There were a few momentum swings on the back of a few errors from us in that attacking zone so I think that will be a focus for us heading into next Sunday," he said.

"There's a lot of good stuff to build on."

The Wallabies last won at Eden Park in 1986 and All Blacks coach Ian Foster was relishing the prospect of facing Australia at the venue.

"I don't know if I'm allowed to say this, but it has always felt like our home ground," he said.

"There's always been a lot of big Tests, so it's got a lot of history."

Foster said the draw left the All Blacks with "a flat feeling" but also revived the Bledisloe rivalry, creating an atmosphere where both teams were keen to battle each other just as hard next week.

"It's under way, full steam," he said.