New Zealand began their Rugby Championship with a comprehensive 47-29 victory over arch rivals Australia, ruining what was new coach Ewen McKenzie’s first match in charge of the Wallabies after their defeat to the British and Irish Lions last month.
Despite star fly-half Dan Carter being ruled out with a calf injury, the All Blacks looked in control, although returning captain Richie McCaw looked a little rusty on his return to international Test rugby following a self-imposed six-month sabbatical even though he got on the scoresheet.
Australia made a number of errors, and with tries from McCaw, Aaron Cruden, Conrad Smith and a Ben Smith hat-trick, New Zealand secured the bonus-point victory in a game that could have gone either way at half-time.
The Kiwis took the lead after just four minutes, with a Stephen Moore knock-on giving the hosts an early chance, and Cruden managed to attack James O’Connor’s outside shoulder before flicking a one-handed pass for Smith to score his first of the match.
Jesse Mogg was given a chance to get McKenzie’s side on the scoreboard, but his long-range penalty attempt went narrowly wide. But they eventually got off the mark when Christian Leali’ifano converted a penalty giver for Kieran Read tackling Rob Simmons off a high midfield kick.
McCaw then was penalised for playing the ball on the floor which allowed Australia to get within a point, but the flanker made up for his error when his tackle led to a penalty of their own to restore the lead.
Two more penalties from Leali’ifano gave the Wallabies the lead, but it was the centre’s poor clearance kick which allowed Cruden to charge down the ball and pounce for a try that put them back ahead.
And McCaw extended the lead further when Aaron Smith fired a pass out wide which allowed the captain to go over in the corner.
But the Wallabies responded magnificently after a New Zealand line-out was fumbled. Flanker Michael Hooper charged up-field with the ball before feeding scrum-half Will Genia, who beat Cruden, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg to go over from 60m out.
A Cruden penalty gave the hosts a 25-19 half-time lead, but they began to stretch their lead in the second half after Leali’ifano had converted an early penalty.
A missed tackle from Mogg allowed Conrad Smith to score a converted try, and Australia’s misery was compounded when they lost a scrum on their own feed, and quick hands saw Ben Smith crash over for his second try of the match.
McKenzie introduced returning fly-half Quade Cooper, who entered proceedings to a chorus of boos from the home side, but he was unable to change the Wallabies fortunes as New Zealand kept up the pressure.
And when Smith crossed to seal his hat-trick, the game was over despite a late consolation try for O’Connor.