The All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup for the 13th successive time as they recorded a 41-13 victory over the Wallabies in Auckland on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
New Zealand had won their last 15 Tests against Australia at Eden Park, while their last defeat at their Auckland fortress came way back in July 1994 at the hands of France.
So, although there will be no surprise at the result, the margin of victory will raise a few eyebrows, particularly after the Wallabies’ deserved victory in Sydney last weekend, which enabled the Aussies to claim the Rugby Championship title.
Yet, after that rare hiccup, the All Blacks looked completely in control for the entire final hour of play in Auckland, during which time they never looked in any danger of relinquishing a lead that quickly burgeoned after half-time.
The All Blacks scored five tries to one from the Wallabies, with Ma’a Nonu going over for two in a one-sided second half as the world champs made a massive statement just 34 days away from when they will begin their title defence.
It was also a fitting way for the All Blacks to celebrate Richie McCaw’s record-breaking feat as he appeared in an incredible 142nd Test match to become the most capped international player ever. A record that will take some beating.
With the All Blacks leading by just six at the break, the decisive moment in the match came soon after the restart when winger Nehe Milner-Skudder produced a brilliant break from around the halfway line, and executed what was sure to be a try-scoring pass to Aaron Smith.
The scrumhalf was cut down just short after a high tackle from Quade Cooper, and referee Nigel Owens understandably didn't hesitate awarding a penalty try, while also dishing out a yellow card to the Wallabies flyhalf.
Benefiting from their one-man advantage, it took no time at all before another superb sequence of play saw Ma’a Nonu set free to score in the 50th minute, with Dan Carter converting to take the home team into a commanding 27-6 lead.
Just a few minutes later, Nonu turned provider as he put his midfield partner Conrad Smith away for a simple try, and the match was well and truly over at 34-6 after Carter’s conversion.
Performing at his imperious best, much like the All Blacks side, Nonu went over for his second try as the hosts piled on the pain for the Wallabies.
Wallabies fullback Israel Folau did score a late consolation try, but it was far too little, too late.
Australia made an encouraging start to the Test, the highlight of which saw them produce a monster scrum at the first set piece of the game, and they grabbed the early lead with an eighth-minute penalty from Cooper.
It also took some time for the All Blacks to settle, and they regularly put boot to ball during the opening stages of the clash, although Folau regularly reigned supreme in the aerial exchanges.
Carter levelled the scores with a well-taken penalty just before the quarter-hour mark, though, and then came an All Blacks moment of magic that the Auckland crowd had been waiting for.
Having stolen possession in their own 22, the All Blacks ran the ball out, recycled to Carter, who then produced a beautiful break on halfway before perfectly timing a deft offload to Dane Coles, with the mobile hooker superbly finishing off a scintillating try.
With momentum having shifted in the blink of an eye, Carter knocked over another penalty, enabling the hosts to establish a 10-point buffer after half an hour.
Cooper drew three back for the Wallabies soon after, and although Carter missed a penalty and drop goal before half-time, the All Blacks were fully deserving of their 13-6 lead at the break.
All Blacks – Tries: Dane Coles, penalty try, Ma’a Nonu (2), Conrad Smith. Conversions: Dan Carter (5). Penalties: Carter (2).
Wallabies – Tries: Israel Folau. Conversion: Nic White. Penalties: Quade Cooper (2)
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Kane Douglas, 21 David Pocock, 22 Matt Giteau, 23 Kurtley Beale.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images