YOKOHAMA – New Zealand completed a Bledisloe Cup clean sweep of Australia on Saturday with a 37-20 win at the venue where the 2019 Rugby World Cup final will be held.
The world champion All Blacks, who had already clinched the series by the time they arrived at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium to play the third and final match, built up an early lead through tries from Liam Squire and Kieran Read.
The Wallabies hit back with a try from Marika Koroibete in the final minute of the first half, but second-half scores from Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith put the All Blacks beyond reach and laid down a marker in their attempt to make it three World Cup titles in a row in Japan next year.
“It was a good start,” said New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, whose team faces Japan at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium next Saturday.
“Australia played differently from what we are going to be playing in the next couple of weeks, but they are a formidable opponent and on their day they can play very well. It was important that we started the tour with a good performance and we did that today.”
Japan was hosting a Bledisloe Cup match for the second time, with Tokyo’s now-demolished National Stadium having staged a game in the annual trans-Tasman series in 2009. A crowd of 46,143 was announced for Saturday’s match at Nissan Stadium, and All Blacks captain Read enjoyed the experience.
“It was outstanding being able to play here in Yokohama,” he said. “We really enjoyed the support and I hope the crowd enjoyed the game as well.
“It’s going to be exciting to come here again next year for the World Cup. The World Cup is a massive tournament so we’ll have to come prepared, but we’re really looking forward to coming back to Japan.”
New Zealand beat Australia in the final of the 2015 World Cup, and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper admitted his team will have to improve if it wants to return to Yokohama to take revenge next year.
“There’s positives and negatives,” he said. “It’s certainly not the outcome that we were going for. We’re disappointed by the outcome. We gave too many opportunities to New Zealand, and a team like that makes the most of them and are so clinical in those areas.”
Australia thought it had taken an early lead when Dane Haylett-Petty touched over in the corner in the second minute, only for the try to be ruled out following a TMO review.
Instead it was the All Blacks who got on the scoreboard first when Squire broke through Kurtley Beale’s attempted tackle to cross the line in the 11th minute, and Barrett added the conversion.
Beale partly redeemed himself with a huge penalty kick from just inside the All Blacks’ half, only for Barrett to kick New Zealand back into a seven-point lead.
The All Blacks increased their advantage when Read scored in the 36th minute. The captain picked up the ball from the base of a scrum, sold Wallabies scrum-half Will Genia a dummy and powered through Hooper to touch down. Barrett added the conversion.
“We wanted to make sure we controlled the game and for the large part of the game we did that,” said Read. “We certainly started a lot better than what we have done in the last few test matches, and once you’ve got your nose in front you can control the game.”
But just as it looked like the world champions were home and dry before halftime, Australia scored in the corner through Koroibete. Bernard Foley kicked the conversion, and the Wallabies went into the break trailing by only seven points.
Foley reduced the deficit further with a penalty shortly after the restart, but Barrett kicked another penalty before sending New Zealand clear with a try in the 59th minute. The fly-half exchanged passes with man-of-the-match Rieko Ioane before racing to the line, then added the conversion himself.
Smith put the icing on the cake when he intercepted a loose pass and took no mercy on the Australian defense in the 68th minute, and although Israel Folau pulled back another try for the Wallabies, Ioane made sure New Zealand had the last word.
“This is not only going to be the stadium for the (World Cup) final, it’s also going to be the stadium for our first game, so that’s the only thing that’s guaranteed for us,” said Hansen. “We’re really looking forward to it.
“While we have learned a lot this week about what is going to happen from a facilities point of view, I think the people who run the facilities will also learn a lot. It was very good tonight but they will make it even better. We’ve got four more games to concentrate on this year and then we can get really excited.”