All Blacks bite back, secure Bledisloe Cup

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 21:33 23/08/2014

All Blacks retain Bledisloe, but where to now?

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CHRIS SKELTON/ Fairfax NZ Zoom
Ryan Crotty surges on the break in a stellar first half from the centre in his first start for the All Blacks.

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Retribution indeed.

Moral of the story? Don't make the All Blacks' forwards angry. They will bite back.

Seven days is a long time in sport - an even longer time to stew on a poor performance. Very rarely do you see the All Blacks miss their lofty standards by such a margin as they did in the dour Sydney draw last week. Yes, the conditions were difficult. Yes, the referee had a shocker. In the end, they are excuses.

Tonight, instead, was an explosion of pent-up frustration, particularly from the bigger boys in black. They deserve the credit for locking away the treasured Bledisloe Cup for a 12th straight year. The backs sure couldn't have recorded this 51-20 record-breaking victory - the most points at home against the Wallabies - without them.  

The big difference between Sydney and Auckland was the physical aggression of Steve Hansen's forward pack. This week they did the dirty work.

They cleaned out rucks with vigour; they flew off the line and whacked those in green and gold jerseys with tag-team tackling. Dane Coles was a force with ball in hand; Brodie Retallick thundered into everything and Kieran Read was back to his usual prominence.

Collectively, as an eight-man unit, they rattled the Australians to lay an exemplary platform. They were ruthless.

By the 50th minute, when Read crashed over, the visitors were stuffed - the All Blacks' brutal mix of fast-paced counter attack and crunching defence had grinded them into the turf. After that, it just seemed cruel. Almost like bullying at the school playground.

Not even Richie McCaw's fair yellow card for cynically playing the ball on the ground could stop his men. The same could not be said for the Wallabies pack - sent backpedalling in the first scrum after Sam Carter was binned for infringing at the maul.  Rob Simmons' card proved much more costly, his side conceding (14 points) two tries - one a penalty try from a five metre scrum shunt - while he was off the park.    

If it wasn't already a proven fact, we can also now confirm there's something undeniably special about Eden Park. The venue continues its fortress status - 20 years and 33 tests since the All Blacks last lost there. It's going to take a damn good team to break that record.

Down 23-6 at half time, the Wallabies' decision to stay on the field, rather than retreat to the changing rooms, in a bid to diminish the ground's mystique looked laughable. Clearly changing hotels didn't work either.  

The 50,000 sell-out crowd were treated as the All Blacks ran in six tries. Many of those were orchestrated by Aaron Cruden.

After a sub-par performance in Sydney, Cruden's game management was superb. On the back of a supremely dominant forward display he thrived with the time, space and freedom all playmakers desire. The short kicking options, delayed passing and running game - Cruden's full range of skills were on display.

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With Ben Smith chiming in frequently from the back, the All Blacks' left-side attack was lethal, allowing Julian Savea to run rampant down his flank. Conrad Smith's return to the backline - after missing last week with the birth of his first son - can also not be glossed over. There were some notably telling touches from the classy centre.

Filling Ma'a Nonu's considerable shoes, Ryan Crotty can be pleased with his contribution before succumbing to a cheek bone injury at half time.

This was a crushing reality check for Ewen McKenzie's men. They thought they had turned the corner. After arriving with the knowledge they blew a gift chance last week, they leave with their eight match unbeaten run well and truly quashed. They've got some work to do yet before their forward pack is not seen as having a soft underbelly.  

McCaw and Co hold higher standards than the average team and they won't be happy about letting in two soft tries to Israel Folau and Michael Hooper late in the second half. They can't afford such slip ups against South Africa in the coming weeks.

But, for now, they will savour sipping from the Bledisloe.

SCOREBOARD

All Blacks 51 penalty try, Julian Savea, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw 2, Steven Luatua, Aaron Cruden pen 3, con 5, Aaron Smith con Wallabies 20 Israel Folau, Michael Hooper tries, Kurtley Beale pen 2, con 2 HT: 23-6.

- Stuff

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