The All Blacks beat the Wallabies 41-33 in Dunedin on Saturday to claim a 3-0 Bledisloe Cup series whitewash, reports SIMON BORCHARDT.
You could have forgiven the world champions for producing a flat display in this dead-rubber Test, considering what they had achieved at Ellis Park two weeks earlier. But they produced some sublime rugby at times to record their 17th win against Australia in their last 20 meetings.
The Wallabies did well to fight back from 30-12 down to make it 33-26, but the All Blacks, who were without Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, never looked like losing this one.
Bledisloe III was entertaining from start to finish.
Quade Cooper gave himself an early confidence boost when his penalty kick bisected the uprights (he would go on to kick six from six). Aaron Cruden's first attempt, from 50m out, was an absolute shocker.
The All Blacks scored their first try in the 10th minute when they attacked down the blind side from a ruck, with Israel Dagg's perfectly timed run getting Adam Ashley-Cooper to come off his wing, which gave Julian Savea the space he needed to get over in the corner.
Cooper then slotted a drop goal, Cruden responded with two penalties, and Cooper kicked his second penalty to make it 13-9.
The All Blacks scored a brilliant try on the 30-minute mark when, from a lineout, Cruden's pin-point cross-kick found Savea, who passed back inside to Dagg. The fullback stepped off his left leg, beat two defenders and put Sam Cane away under the posts.
Cooper and Cruden exchanged penalties, before the latter rounded off another superb All Blacks try, which saw the forwards taking play up to the 22 on the left touchline, quick hands from the backs creating space on the right, and Liam Messam giving Cruden the final inside pass.
Then came the Wallabies' spirited comeback.
Matt Toomua broke the defence, and Cooper's pass from the ruck put Ashley-Cooper over in the corner. Cooper's touchline conversion made it 30-19 at the break.
Cruden kicked a penalty early in the second half, and the All Blacks should have scored a try soon after when they had a two-man overlap. But Savea's pass was intercepted by Tevita Kuridrani, and while he was brought to ground 5m out from the tryline, he was able to pop the ball to Toomua, whose converted try reduced the deficit to seven.
Cruden then missed a simple penalty, and there would have been a few nervous fans in the stands.
But the Wallabies gave the initiative back to the hosts when they tried to run the ball out of their half and conceded a turnover from which Kieran Read scored. Cruden missed the conversion but a penalty from the man who replaced him, Beauden Barrett, extended the advantage to 15 with 10 minutes to go.
Kuridrani scored a third try for the Wallabies, which added respectability to the scoreline, and while both sides tried hard to get another try after the hooter, a knock-on finally ended a thrilling contest.
All Blacks – Tries: Julian Savea, Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Kieran Read. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (3). Penalties: Cruden (4), Beauden Barrett.
Wallabies – Tries: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani. Conversions: Quade Cooper (3). Penalties: Quade Cooper (3). Drop goal: Cooper.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Steven Luatua,, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Tom Taylor.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Nic White, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Bernard Foley.
Photo: Hannah Johnston/Getty Images
Expansion into mega mediocrity
Increasingly the decision to expand Vodacom Super Rugby in 2016 is looking like a decision to grow an enormous mediocre monster, writes RYAN VREDE.
Jake can fix Frans
Jake White has the potential to bring out the best in Frans Steyn once again, writes RYAN VREDE.
Sharks playing intelligent rugby
The Sharks have been outstanding in the first month of Vodacom Super Rugby, writes MARK KEOHANE.