All Blacks clean-sweep the English
Bad, better, brilliant. From the fumbles of Auckland, to the snapshot of razzle-dazzle of Dunedin, to this, easily their best performance in Hamilton, the improving All Blacks tonight carved their place in history as only they really can.
By completing a 3-0 series sweep of Stuart Lancaster's tired English side on a perfect night in front of a full house of 25,500 here in the Tron, Richie McCaw and his men joined the 1965-69 All Blacks and the 1997-98 Springboks as the only tier-one nation to carve off a 17-test winning streak. They will own the mark outright if they can continue their dominance of the Wallabies in Sydney on August 16 when the Rugby Championship gets under way.
After two rather incomplete performances hitherto, it was heartening to see the All Blacks put the English away by halftime with a powerhouse, four-try first 40 minutes, en route to a 29-6 lead. From there it was all she wrote for an English side on its last legs after a long season - though at least Lancaster's bombers did manage to turn the tide over the run home as the second half finished seven apiece.
The All Blacks were led by a crisp display of finishing from Julian Savea, who completed his second test hat-trick with a late finish off some special Cory Jane skill, and another of those busy, bustling displays from halfback Aaron Smith as they took their home win streak to 33 tests over five years.
A clean sweep of a pretty useful English outfit cannot be sneezed at either, for it's a pretty good bet these guys will be one of the main stumbling blocks come next year's World Cup on their home turf.
The All Blacks' first half was precision footy at its best, the lineout efficient, scrum powerful and the backs carving holes at will against an English defence that looked to have completely lost the plot. Frankly, the second 40 is best forgotten as the home side buttoned off and the tourists showed they've got plenty of heart beneath that red rose on their jerseys.
Veteran prop Tony Woodcock had a big test in the heart of things up front, Brodie Retallick was quality again and Kieran Read got through a half before being yanked at the break; but it was the black backs who showcased their skills on a good night for running rugby. Jane answered his challenges - and critics - splendidly, Ben Smith remained at his slick best and Malakai Fekitoa got through 63 very promising minutes in an industrious starting debut.
The first half was a procession, as fears this might be a game too far for Lancaster's men came to fruition. The tourists, so sharp and competitive in the first two tests, disintegrated in a cavalcade of bad decisions, poor skills and shoddy tackling as the All Blacks ran in four tries, for a 29-6 lead, by a halftime break that, frankly, couldn't come quick enough for the tourists.
Savea had the first two, bringing his tally to 22 in 22 tests, and seven in four against the English, inside the first 10 minutes when regulation backline moves off lineouts opened massive holes in the English defence, with "the Bus" the beneficiary out wide.
Brittle inside centre Kyle Eastmond was the chief offender as he committed pretty much every sin in the defensive copybook as the All Blacks exposed his poor positioning badly.
Savea very nearly had his hat-trick inside a quarter of an hour, only for Ben Smith - would you believe? - to throw a forward pass when the try was otherwise a certainty. But the respite didn't last long for the English, as a 12-3 New Zealand lead was more than doubled before the break.
Halfback Aaron Smith, shaking off an early error or two, scored the third and fourth tries of the half as the fleet-footed No 9 was the right man in the right place for the finish. His first, in the 27th minute, came courtesy of a broken tackle and assist from Jane, and his second, six minutes before the break, when Ben Smith easily shook off Freddie Burns' ineffective tackle to put his Highlanders team-mate away.
England scored soon after the restart when Marland Yarde finished a nice move opened up by the skill of big second-rower Joe Launchbury, and spent most of the second half camped firmly in enemy territory.
It was to the All Blacks' credit that they kept their line intact the rest of the way, even when Wyatt Crocket was binned late, and they ended a top night with the final say when Jane completed an outstanding return to form with a splendid setup for Savea.
Bring on the Rugby Championship.
New Zealand 36 (Julian Savea 3, Aaron Smith 2 tries; Aaron Cruden 3 cons, pen; Beauden Barrett con), England 13 (Marland Yarde try; Freddie Burns con, 2 pens). Ht: 29-6.