New Zealand crush Australia in Rugby Championship opener
Reigning champions open with a bonus-point win as Steve Hansen’s side score eight tries in first 48 minutes
Damian McKenzie, Rieko Ioane and Liam Squire had starring roles as New Zealand ran in eight tries to four to beat Australia 54-34 on Saturday in the first test of the Rugby Championship.
Winger Ioane scored a double in the Bledisloe Cup opener to take his tally of tries to five from four test appearances. Fullback 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 tries in the second half, to winger Curtis Rona on debut, centres Tevita Kuridrani and Kurtley Beale, and fullback Israel Folau.
New Zealand’s points score in Australia exceeded their 51-20 win in 2014, though the winning margin fell short of their record 43-6 victory in 1996. At one point on Saturday, the All Blacks led 54-6.
The result fomented a deeper crisis within Australian rugby which was already struggling after its worst-ever Super Rugby season in which its teams lost all 26 matches against New Zealand opponents.
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.
New Zealand should have won more convincingly but lost their way after half time.
“I think in the second half we let frustration strangle us a little bit,” All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. “We just needed to dump that and get back to playing some simple footy.
“We showed in the first half we really just let the ball do the work – nothing special but it just worked for us. I think the first half was good and we were okay 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 to Bernard Foley.
The fullback’s line-break began the movement in the 18th minute, leading to Squire being given a wide corridor down the left-hand touch to outflank the Wallabies’ defence. Beauden Barrett’s conversion gave the All Blacks a 7-3 lead on which they built steadily throughout the first half.
McKenzie was again instrumental in making Ioane’s first try, breaking the defence and leaving the winger to win an easy one-on-one with Folau, who rushed out of position.
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 prop Joe Moody and lock Brodie Retallick had broken the Australian defense and McKenzie combined with Barrett to leave the line open.
Sonny Bill Williams crashed over in the 34th, then Crotty scored his second try when scrumhalf Aaron Smith passed to him directly from an attacking scrum in the last minute of the first half.
The All Blacks took a 40-6 lead to half-time and the game was already over. New Zealand had taken a major step toward retaining the Bledisloe Cup which it has held since 2003.
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 an 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 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, playing his first test since the 2015 World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand, pounced on a loose ball and dashed away in the 62nd, then Folau scored a contentious try, which appeared to begin from a forward pass by Foley and to continue with an offside play by Folau.
The All Blacks might have surpassed 60 points with a late try to Barrett but the score was overruled by the television official.
“The Wallabies were certainly going to come out firing in that second half. They did and we just took our foot off the throat a bit,” Read said. “We’ll take the positives and there’s obviously things to learn from. It’s not often you come here and put 50 points on the Wallabies.”