Damien McKenzie, Rieko Ioane and Liam Squire had starring roles as New Zealand ran in eight tries to four to beat Australia 54-34 yesterday in the first test of the Rugby Championship.
Winger Ioane scored a double in the Bledisloe Cup opener to take his tally to five from four test appearances. Full-back McKenzie got his first try in three tests, and flanker Squire scored his second try in eight tests as the All Blacks led 40-6 at half-time – and six tries to nil.
Australia rallied with four converted second-half tries – from winger Curtis Rona on his debut, centres Tevita Kuridrani and Kurtley Beale, and full-back Israel Folau.
New Zealand’s score exceeded its 51-20 win in 2014, though the winning margin fell short of its record 43-6 victory in 1996. At one point, the All Blacks led 54-6.
The Wallabies hoped to bring some solace to fans who have begun to turn away from the sport because of administrative issues and poor on-field performance. Instead, they compounded the impression that the sport in Australia is in disarray – and New Zealand should have won more convincingly.
“I think in the second half we let frustration strangle us a little bit,” All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. “We just needed to get back to playing some simple footy.
“We showed in the first half that we really just let the ball do the work. We were OK in patches of the second half but we conceded 34 points which means most days of the week you’re going to be losing test matches. But you can’t fault that first half. It was bloody fantastic.”
McKenzie played creative roles in an early try for Squire, and in Ioane’s double, after Australia had led with a third-minute penalty by Bernard Foley.
The full-back’s line-break began the movement in the 18th minute, leading to Squire outflanking the Wallabies defence. Beauden Barrett’s conversion gave the All Blacks a 7-3 lead.
McKenzie was again instrumental in Ioane’s first try, leaving the winger in an easy one-on-one with Folau.
Ioane had his double when a rushed pass caused Beale to cough up possession to Ryan Crotty, who drew defenders before allowing the pacy winger to sprint away.
Crotty had his first try in the 25th minute after McKenzie combined with Barrett to leave the line open.
Sonny Bill Williams crashed over in the 34th, then Crotty scored his second in the last minute of the first half.
The All Blacks took a 40-6 lead to halftime and the game was already over. Their grip on the match became more emphatic when McKenzie scored a brilliant try in the third minute of the second half, then Ben Smith added another from a break by Squire.
New Zealand seemed headed for a historic winning margin but the tide turned from then on.
Rona scored a good try from a set move at a scrum in the 52nd minute to lift Australian spirits. Kuridrani came off the bench and scored a neat try from a double-round in midfield to make the score 54-20.
Beale pounced on a loose ball and dashed away in the 62nd minute, then Folau scored a contentious try, which appeared to begin from a forward pass by Foley.
The All Blacks might have surpassed 60 points with a late Barrett try but the score was overruled by the television official.