New Zealand retained both the Rugby Championship title and Bledisloe Cup after they after hammered Australia 38-7 at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
In truth, the scoreline didn’t really do justice to the visitors’ efforts, who fronted up for the majority of the match, but it simply showcased how much Ian Foster’s men have progressed over the past 12 months.
Following disappointing defeats to South Africa and Argentina, the Wallabies were better in Melbourne and after 30 minutes they held a 7-5 advantage through Rob Valetini’s try.
New Zealand had begun the half well as Shannon Frizell went over before they ended it on the front foot thanks to tries from Codie Taylor and Will Jordan.
The All Blacks then withstood long periods of pressure in the second half, which proved crucial as they cut loose, scoring three times in the final 22 minutes.
Caleb Clarke, Mark Telea and Rieko Ioane all touched down to complete the win and make sure their kept hold of the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.
It was a mixed start from Aaron Smith, who threw the ball straight into touch in the opening exchanges, but he then produced a pinpoint box-kick which took play into the Australian 22.
From the resultant Wallabies lineout, the hosts took clean ball off the top, but Scott Barrett was waiting and sent Tate McDermott into next week with a huge hit. The scrum-half duly lost possession and Frizell was on hand to touch down to hand the visitors the lead.
To McDermott’s credit, he responded well and dictated proceedings nicely from the base, while his half-back partner Carter Gordon – on his first Test start – mixed play up nicely.
With big runners Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete and Mark Nawaqanitawase picking lines in the midfield, the Wallabies were dangerous.
Nawaqanitawase was particularly effective and the wing made a significant incursion as he ran over the isolated Smith and surged into the New Zealand 22.
Eddie Jones’ men showed patience to go through the phases and eventually Valetini was awarded a try after consultation with the television match official.
The Australians were at that point matching the All Blacks physically but gradually Ian Foster’s charges got on top.
They were very direct and structured, something which attack guru Joe Schmidt has added to their armoury, and eventually the home side’s defence was breached.
After Koroibete had been sin-binned for being offside, the All Blacks took advantage of his absence when a powerful driving maul ended in Taylor crossing the whitewash.
Richie Mo’unga’s conversion then increased their buffer to five but all was not lost for the Wallabies, who were very much in the game. However, a mistake from Gordon handed the visitors a final opportunity before the break and, in typical New Zealand fashion, they were clinical as Jordan scored.
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The momentum had very much switched the All Blacks’ way but Australia did not give in and dominated the first 15 minutes of the second period. However, there was no reward for their efforts as their opponents’ defence remained stubborn in the face of some big runners.
Taniela Tupou, making his return to the international arena, made several rampaging runs, but one such surge led to him picking up an injury.
Bizarrely, Jones decided to keep him on the field while he was clearly struggling and it proved costly as, with his last act, the tighthead was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle.
The head coach was reluctant to bring Tupou off due to the serious injury suffered by Allan Alaalatoa but, with the World Cup looming and James Slipper able to cover that position, it was a strange call by the Wallabies.
And with Australia down to 14 men once again, the All Blacks would make sure of the victory. Firstly, Clarke crossed the whitewash before fellow wing Telea followed him to effectively secure the Rugby Championship title.
With the game in the bag New Zealand could enjoy themselves and they put together the try of the competition, which ended in Ioane going over.
It was a fitting final try as they showed the rugby world that they will be a significant threat come the Rugby World Cup.