New Zealand produced rugby from another planet as they bounced back from the draw in Sydney with a blistering 51-20 win over Australia.
Played out at a ferocious pace and the odd handling error aside, this was New Zealand’s best rugby of the year so far.
There was even time to break a record in the final minute, Steven Luatua ensuring that New Zealand put 50 points on Australia on home soil for the first time with his try under the sticks after the hooter.
Any nagging suggestion before kick-off that Steve Hansen’s men were on the slide was instantly trashed.
They simply played at an unbreathable tempo for Australia, or indeed any other side on the planet. Cataloguing all of the brilliant individual moments will take some time.
It’s a game played on a different level, a persistent hunt for space with hands always open and passes so well timed that opponents are denied the chance to play and are constantly threatened. Like a turbocharged game of Sevens with 15 men. New Zealand are the kings of it, mesmerising when they find their groove.
So many All Blacks were outstanding, but it would be wrong not to single out Brodie Retallick. His work at the ruck and around the park was staggering.
The world champions were awesome and angry, conceding the first points to a penalty from Kurltey Beale but then surging forward with all the intensity that was missed in attack in Sydney.
Running with plenty of vigour and feeding off the slight of hand from Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith, the high speed start eventually slowed as Cruden added two quick penalties to put the hosts ahead.
Tremendous defence from both teams prevented early tries, but Beale underlined why Ewen McKenzie had gone for his creative streak when sliding through two tacklers before releasing Israel Folau.
Hell then froze over when Richie McCaw received remarkably only his second ever yellow card in Test rugby, the hard line towards cynical defence from New Zealand rising to the fore as Romain Poite didn’t hesitate to bin the All Blacks skipper.
After the controversy surrounding Jaco Peyper, the French referee had an excellent game.
Going down to 14 men didn’t damper New Zealand’s momentum, Cruden regaining the lead with his third strike for a 9-6 scoreline after the opening quarter – one coincidentally without any scrums.
Stopping the All Blacks maul was proving to be a problem for Australia and Rob Simmons paid the price for lifting the leg in the maul, taking his turn to see yellow as McCaw returned to action.
A juggernaut scrum from the All Blacks delivered the try they deserved, eight against a Simmons-less Wallaby pack. James Slipper went to ground and Poite didn’t hesitate to run under the posts to award the score.
Boy this was good; everything that Sydney wasn’t. Folau cantered through the defence but squandered a pass to the man outside before being tackled high, though it crucially and wrongly went unpunished.
The Wallabies went right but when isolated were pounced upon, New Zealand turning over the ball and countering at a canter up the right touchline for Julian Savea to go over untouched.
23-6. How could Australia, winless on this ground for 28 years, come back from that?
Sometimes there are no answers to pure brilliance. A break starting by Beauden Barrett from behind his own posts had New Zealand cutting and gliding their way through tacklers.
Michael Hooper did his all to stop the assault with a breakdown penalty, but the home side were in punishing mode.
Dazzling hands and a well-weighted grubber from Savea infield ended with a try for Kieran Read, his face a picture after a frustrating few months.
McCaw ensured his yellow card was just an anomaly when he crashed over for the bonus point. If a white flag had been available you’d have understood Australia raising it at 37-6.
A second score from an almost copycat situation for the New Zealand captain brought up the 40-point mark before Folau crossed for his consolation try. In his impressive Test career so far, this was his lowest moment.
Hooper, tenacious as ever even in defeat, finished a remarkable solo effort off the back of the line-out to add more respectability to the scoreboard at 44-20.
That sign of defiance will be something to take forward, a smidgen of salvation really. Australia are better this and will show that, but there’s no denying they were blown away here. No side though would have coped.
Barrett’s try-saving tackle of Folau in many ways was the icing on the cake, the number ten using the angle to cut him down following an interception break.
If you thought New Zealand were a fading force, think again.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Penalty Try, Savea, Read, McCaw 2, Luatua
Cons: Cruden 5, Barrett
Pens: Cruden 3
Yellow Cards: McCaw, B.Franks
Tries: Folau, Hooper
Cons: Foley 2
Pens: Beale 2
Yellow Card: Simmons
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Tevita Kuridrani,
Date: Saturday, August 23
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper, Stuart Berry
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
- Planet Rugby