An outstanding match at ANZ Stadium in Sydney saw New Zealand clinch a try-scoring bonus-point 47-29 win over Australia.
The All Blacks kept hold of the lead for the majority of the match as both teams played with great width and endeavour throughout, a classic performance featuring eight tries in total, including a hat-trick for Ben Smith and a length-of-the-field classic from Will Genia.
The occasion marked the return of Richie McCaw to the international stage and he hardly shunned the limelight, ever-present at the breakdown throughout and a try scorer too as he proved that none of his magic had been lost during a six-month sabbatical.
As Test matches go in 2013, the overall quality was at times a cut above - with both the Wallabies and All Blacks underlining why Bledisloe Cup matches are constantly pencilled into diaries.
In the end however, with six tries in the bag away from home and 47 points scored, this was New Zealand's night.
Cruden's perfect slight of hand gave Ben Smith the space he needed to run around into the corner and grab the game's first try after only three minutes.
A mis-timed leap then handed the Wallabies their first points when Lealiifano stroked over a penalty, a second arriving minutes later when the returning McCaw was penalised for going off his feet.
Played out at a relentless tempo, it was Australia who started brighter despite conceding that early try - although Michael Hooper and Andrew Hore both made key interventions for theirs sides at the breakdown in defence.
McCaw gradually flourished as he grew into the match, winning a penalty at the breakdown that allowed Cruden to stretch the score to 10-6 in the All Blacks' favour at the close of the opening quarter. He wasn't perfect though - another breakdown penalty offence letting Lealiifano close the gap.
The introduction of the new scrum laws saw less resets, but more free-kicks as both Aaron Smith and Will Genia were caught out for not feeding straight into the scrum.
McCaw's mixed fortunes continued with another discrepancy, again on the deck, as Lealiifano put Australia in front for the first time. It was a lead that lasted less than a minute - the Brumbies inside centre's kick was soon charged down by Cruden, who only had to flop on the bouncing ball to score the All Blacks' second try.
It was a moment that woke New Zealand up - McCaw, who else, crashing over in the right-hand corner from a divine Conrad Smith pass to become the first New Zealand forward to rack up over 100 Test points.
Two tries in five minutes; the work of a ruthless side and a 22-12 lead for the world champions.
Australia needed something and a loose line-out from Hore was snaffled up by Hooper at the base, finding Genia - who blazed his way past the All Blacks' two Aarons down the right wing, before skipping inside for a remarkable 75-metre try.
It was a score to rival his magnificent effort in the Super Rugby Final two years ago. A further Cruden penalty left the half-time score at 25-19.
Lealiifano's fifth penalty at the beginning of the second half kept the Wallabies very much in contention for the lead, a three-pointer that came before a completely frantic passage of play.
Both sides breathlessly attacked, culminating in the two of the Smiths combining - Aaron feeding Conrad who scuttled his way in under the sticks for the try bonus point and a 32-22 lead for New Zealand. With Ben Smith's second try a few minutes later, after good work from blindside Steven Luatua to disrupt a Wallaby scrum, this contest was over.
Quade Cooper's introduction to a chorus of boos felt like a last throw of the dice from new Wallabies head coach Ewen McKenzie, but there was to be no pay-off.
Instead Ben Smith sealed a memorable hat-trick; a moment the man from Otago will never forget after the ball squeezed out of a Wallaby ruck and the Highlander cantered down the right wing to finish.
O'Connor crossed for a consolation try after the hooter but Australian minds were already on next weekend - a re-match in Wellington against the world champions and a chance to bounce back. New Zealand will be lying in wait, purring.
Man of the Match: Long live the King. Richie McCaw returned to Test rugby with one of his defining performances in an All Black jersey. He was everywhere.
Moment of the Match: It might have been an effort in defeat, but Will Genia's blitzer brought Australia screaming back into the contest at the end of the first-half.
Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report, although Quade Cooper must have thought he was in a pantomime.
Tries: Genia, O'Connor
Cons: Lealiifano 2
Pens: Lealiifano 5
For New Zealand:
Tries: B.Smith 3, Cruden, McCaw, C.Smith
Cons: Cruden 4
Pens: Cruden 3
Australia: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Tevita Kuridrani.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Lourens Van Der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
by Ben Coles