But with 80 seconds to go, after Rob Simmons gave away a maul penalty, Barrett redeemed himself to lock scores up and forced a cliffhanger finish.
Enter Hodge – Australia’s super-sub with the biggest boot in world rugby.
With two nations holding their breath, Hodge’s kick soared into the Wellington sky. It had the distance but cannoned into the right post and play resumed.
Had it gone over, it would have brought pure elation to a Wallabies side who came within a whisker of doing what no Australian side has done since 2001 in Dunedin.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison light-heartedly told new coach Dave Rennie via a good luck video on Sunday not to “stuff it up” and the most important man in the country, along with thousands of Wallabies fans at barbecues around the country, will be giving Dave a big tick of approval in his first outing.
Talk about exceeding expectations.
Rennie was understated in the build-up, never giving the impression either he or his squad were overconfident.
But what a performance this was, under the circumstances, that will convince even the most sceptical Wallabies fan that something special could be brewing under Rennie.
“Really proud,” the coach said.
“We were under the pump early but I thought we defended well for big chunks of the game. We were able to apply pressure through our kick game and scored a couple of good tries at important times. We had our chance right at the death. It went off the post and then Rabs was setting up for a drop goal and we ended up going wider. Then we had to suffer over the last couple over the last couple of minutes.”
All Blacks coach Ian Foster, an assistant to Steve Hansen in a poor World Cup campaign, looked a nervous wreck as Australia grew in confidence and threatened to cause a major boilover.
In his first outing at No.10 against the Kiwis, O’Connor was slick and assured, courtesy of crisp service from halfback Nic White all afternoon.
O’Connor’s last pass to Marika Koroibete, for the first of Australia’s two tries, was timed to perfection and there was enough evidence in his showing to suggest he should remain in the role moving forward.
The All Blacks were lethargic, lacked discipline and rusty.
Running into a headwind, Australia’s lineout wasn’t up to scratch courtesy of some wonky Folau Fainga’a throws, yet despite the set-piece woes Australia would have been chuffed to head into the sheds at the ‘Cake Tin’ only down 8-3.
The wind made kicking a nightmare for both sides, with all four conversions missing their mark.
After an energy-sapping opening period, the All Blacks pounced at the first opportunity with a fierce wind howling behind them.
Their counter-attack down the right, finished off by Barrett, came about after Tom Banks’ clearing kick failed to find touch.
But replays showed Rieko Ioane’s foot had flicked the touchline paint and remarkably, it was on Australian assistant Angus Gardner’s wing.
The Kiwis weren’t so lucky on the stroke of half-time when, having been on the back foot, thought they’d scored through Ioane after a counter-attack that came from a Fainga’a knock-on.
New Zealand’s knack of finishing first halves on a high looked to have occurred once again but Ioane’s schoolboy knock-on while placing the ball down sent a sigh of relief through the Wallabies.
Filipo Daugunu had a sensational debut and scored a cracking five-pointer. He was evasive and ate up 130 metres from 15 carries, while fellow debutant Harry Wilson bent the line and came good on his pre-game word that he wasn’t afraid of the All Blacks.
Australia’s cleanout accuracy will need work before the second Test in Auckland but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
The Wallabies lifted in Michael Hooper’s 100th Test and will head to Eden Park, where they have not won since 1986, in little doubt they can go one better and create another slice of history.
“It was a good start,” Hooper said.
“I’m very proud of our team to fight all the way though. We’ll go again next week at Eden Park and we’re up for the challenge. We played on top of them pretty well in the second half which was enjoyable.
“They found some space there, some good kicking options, a lot to like there. God I would have liked to close it out though.”
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Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald