AUCKLAND – New Zealand set its Rugby World Cup preparation on track with an emphatic 41-13 win over Australia on Saturday which retained the Bledisloe Cup and extended a 29-year winning streak over the Wallabies at Eden Park.
After last week’s 27-19 loss in Sydney which awarded the Rugby Championship to Australia, the All Blacks faced the even worse prospect of giving up the Bledisloe Cup — played for annually against the Wallabies and which they have held since 2003. That prospect died in a barrage of tries early in the second half.
New Zealand scored through Dane Coles, Ma’a Nonu — a double — and Conrad Smith, and won a penalty try to extend its winning streak on home soil to 38 tests stretching back to 1994.
It also marked captain Richie McCaw’s 142nd test appearance which made him the most-capped player in test rugby history. McCaw was subbed in the 67th minute, leaving the field to a long ovation.”
The World Cup “is the mountain we still want to climb,” McCaw said. “Tonight we put all our energy into retaining the Bledisloe Cup.
“Sport’s a funny old thing. Last week we were on the receiving end of it but in true style, and it’s what it means to be an All Black, we put a better performance together.”
The All Blacks had a perfect storm of motivations to win Saturday’s match, including atonement for last weekend’s disappointing loss and to honor McCaw, flyhalf Dan Carter and centers Nonu and Smith, who were playing their last tests on home soil.
They were also determined, after losing the Rugby Championship, to retain the Bledisloe Cup, which has been in New Zealand’s possession for 12 years, and to continue their remarkable winning streaks at Eden Park and at home.
Most importantly, they needed to restore confidence in their preparation for the defense of the World Cup, starting next month. No team in seven World Cups over 28 years has managed to defend the trophy and New Zealand, the top-ranked team in world rugby over the last eight years, is determined to become the first to do so.
There were jitters when Australia dominated the first 20 minutes, with the All Blacks kicking away the little usable possession that came their way.
The turning point came in the 23rd when, for the first time, the All Blacks kept the ball in hand and launched a movement which sprawled from one end of the field to the other, ending in a magnificent try to Coles which, converted by Dan Carter, gave New Zealand a 10-3 lead.
The move began when the All Blacks won a rare turnover near their own line and at last decided to run rather than kick. Winger Julian Savea made a lumbering run and, from a quick recycle, Nonu fed Carter, standing wide, who beat his marker and sprinted into space. Carter fed Coles and the unusually agile hooker side-stepped winger Adam Ashley-Cooper and dashed 40 meters to the tryline, fending scrumhalf Nick White at the end.
By halftime, when they led 13-6, the All Blacks had begun to look in control. They were dominating the breakdown and the Wallabies were forced to replace Wycliff Palu with David Pocock at the break, restoring the backrow combination with Michael Hooper and Scott Fardy which performed so well in Sydney.
Australia’s use of a new-look halves pairing in scrumhalf White and flyhalf Quade Cooper also failed as Cooper, who has a long history of failures against the All Blacks and in New Zealand, added to that invidious record. Cooper conceded a penalty try and received a yellow card for a high tackle which prevented a try by scrumhalf Aaron Smith in the 49th.
Young winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, who scored two tries on debut last week, made the break from which the penalty try developed, then made another that led to a try to Nonu two minutes later, putting the outcome of the match beyound doubt at 27-6.
Smith then scored from Nonu’s long pass in the 54th as the All Blacks ran in three tries in six minutes; one conceded by Cooper and two scored while he was absent in the sin-bin.
Nonu scored his second try in the 65th, running off a neat inside pass from Carter after an attacking scrum. Carter converted to finish with 16 points from five conversions and two penalties, lifting his world record tally in tests to 1,516 points.
Australia scored a consolation try from a breakout by fullback Israel Folau in the 75th minute — his 18th try in 33 tests.
“We didn’t get carried away (with last week’s win),” Wallabies captain Stephen Moore said. “We knew it was going to be tough over here but we just got out-classed a bit tonight.”