All Blacks just too strong for Wallabies
If you're starting to take this All Black dominance of Australia for granted, banish those thoughts.
New Zealand's vice-like grip on the Bledisloe Cup - and Wallaby rugby minds - is now so absolute it should be considered a national treasure.
Steve Hansen's All Blacks tonight secured the Bledisloe Cup for an 11th consecutive season as they despatched the Wallabies for the second straight week with another very impressive performance, winning 27-16.
Sure, it was a bit more competitive, a bit less comprehensive in front of a sellout crowd of 38,000 at the Cake Tin. But this was still an All Blacks outfit operating at a higher level than the Wallabies, able to dominate the set piece, eventually the breakdown and certainly the kicking contest.
Israel Folau's late intercept try made it all look a bit more respectable, but this was still a quality display from an All Blacks side who are going to be very hard to peg back in the Rugby Championship.
It was also a brilliant way to mark Tony Woodcock's 100th test, with the veteran loosehead prop becoming just the fourth All Black centurion. The sight of the black scrum making mincemeat of the Wallabies in the second half indicated he enjoyed himself immensely out there.
It was a fabulous debut from 24-year-old Cantab Tom Taylor at first five, too, before he went off late with a rib injury. The kid was composed, slotted five of his eight shots at goal and for a fourth-string No 10 he looks a classy operator indeed.
It was also another good night for Ben Smith on the wing, with two more tries to add to his growing haul. His only black mark was a bad tackle miss on James O'Connor, but we'll forgive him that as he continues to thrive out wide on the right. It was heartening, too, to see Israel Dagg running with real intent.
The forwards, of course, played their part, dominant at the scrum and eventually at the breakdown once the early Aussie fury was contained. They also caused plenty of mischief at the Wallaby lineout. Steven Luatua continues to look a natural at this level, Kieran Read and Richie McCaw again got through a ton of work and Brodie Retallick also had a strong game.
"We put them under a lot of pressure at scrum time and even at the lineout in the end we started to dominate on their throw," said Hansen when asked what got his team home. "The biggest factor was our ability to make the most of our opportunities. When we had opportunities, we scored."
McCaw said the Wallabies gave them real problems early at the breakdown, but important adjustments were made. "They brought the intensity we expected but probably didn't match for the first period. But we hung in there and when the momentum did change we capitalised on their mistakes."
The Wallabies started with a hiss and a roar, but lost their shape as the game went on. Their kick game was again sub-par, and they fell off too many tackles. The good news for Ewen McKenzie is that he doesn't see the All Blacks again till the now dead third Bledisloe in a couple of month' time.
The Wallabies had brought the intensity through the opening half, but once again it was the All Blacks who revealed the strikepower for a decisive 15-6 lead.
Naturally both of their first-half tries went to Ben Smith who can do no wrong at the moment. You get the feeling if he was dropped in a mud puddle he'd come up smelling of roses the way things are rolling for him.
They call him 'the Ghost' in this team, and he's certainly popping up in all the right places. Smith's two first-half touchdowns, both courtesy of brilliant handling inside, took his tally for the year's tests to seven in five matches, and five in the last two against the Wallabies.
The first came around the 27-minute mark, with the All Blacks trailing 6-0. Read did very well to snaffle an Israel Dagg high kick, and from there Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Luatua and Dagg played their part to put Ben Smith into space on the right.
Taylor slotted his first penalty, then narrowly missed a real thump from 52 metres out before the All Blacks struck again right in the shadow of halftime.
This time it was the impressive Luatua who carved the opening when he sliced clean through the defence and was only brought down short of the line by Michael Hooper's desperate tackle.
But Luatua did well to get back to his feet, and from there it was more crisp hands right, and that man Smith over in the corner for a score that must have knocked the stuffing out of the Wallabies.
The All Blacks failed to cross the Australian line in the second half, content to rack up four penalties to make the game safe, and Folau struck late when he snaffled Nonu's loose pass to dash 70m.
But this was New Zealand's night again. Too good, too strong. One more year, Australia.
New Zealand 27 (Ben Smith 2 tries; Tom Taylor 4 pens, con; Israel Dagg pen), Australia 16 (Israel Folau try; Christian Leali'ifano 3 pens, con). HT: 15-6