By Greg Stutchbury
New Zealand’s forwards responded to criticism of their performance in their opening Rugby Championship clash to set the foundation for a 51-20 victory over Australia at Eden Park on Saturday that also ensured the retention of the Bledisloe Cup.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, who was sinbinned early in the game, scored two tries while Kieran Read, Julian Savea and Steven Luatua also crossed, with their pack awarded a penalty try as part of a record score against the Wallabies.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden kicked five conversions and three penalties, while Wallabies fullback Israel Folau and captain Michael Hooper crossed for tries with Kurtley Beale adding two penalties and two conversions.
The victory ensured the Bledisloe Cup remained in New Zealand for the 12th successive year. The third match in Brisbane in October is now a dead rubber in terms of the battle for the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy.
Maligned for their failure to combat the Wallabies’ intensity in the 12-12 draw in Sydney last week, New Zealand’s forwards tore into their Australian counterparts, intent on protecting a formidable 20-year unbeaten record at Eden Park.
“We put the acid on those guys to front up this week,” McCaw told reporters of his tight five’s efforts.
“We looked at what happened last week and for a lot of the game we were getting beaten in the contact areas. They knew that and they set the platform for some go forward ball.
“Rugby is a hell of a lot easier when you win the contact.”
While Cruden and Beale traded early penalties, the sinbinning of McCaw in the 13th minute for a professional foul galvanised the home side, who controlled the ball the entire time their captain was on the sideline.
With the All Blacks leading 9-6, the tide of the match turned when Wallabies lock Rob Simmons was sinbinned just as McCaw was returning and the home side attacked the visitors’ scrum.
The All Blacks exploited their man advantage when Brodie Retallick was held up over the line and used the resulting scrum to shunt the Wallabies’ backwards and then disintegrate their pack with referee Romain Poite awarding a penalty try.
Then they produced a sweeping counter-attack from inside their own 22 after turning the ball over, spread it wide with Cruden drawing defenders before offloading a perfectly timed pass to Savea outside him.
Cruden’s conversion gave the All Blacks a handy 23-6 lead at the break that they extended with a scintillating 10-minute burst after the break that produced three more tries, two to McCaw from attacking lineouts.
“When you’re chasing 20-odd points against a team like the All Blacks it’s a dangerous experience and you need to take risks to chase the game,” Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie said.
“They played well, no question but I know we’re better than that, so it was a very frustrating night.”
Folau and Hooper scored two quick consolation tries for the visitors before Luatua scored a last-minute try that Aaron Smith converted to give them a record score.
The All Blacks’ previous best score was the 50-21 they accumulated in 2003, the year they regained the Bledisloe Cup.
“It was a special performance,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen added. Obviously we didn’t play well last week, it was disappointing because we set high standards for ourselves.”
“We showed an intensity that we didn’t have the week before.”
Both sides now have a week off before their next Rugby Championship clashes, with the All Blacks playing Argentina in Napier, while the Wallabies head to Perth to host South Africa on Sept. 6.