New Zealand 27 Australia 7
Winger Caleb Clarke produced a stunning performance of power running in his first Test start to provide some much needed attacking thrust as New Zealand beat Australia 27-7 in their second Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday.
The authoritative win erased memories of a 16-16 draw in the first game last week and also gave the All Blacks the advantage in retaining the Bledisloe Cup, which they have held since 2003, as the series moves to Australia for the final two matches.
The pressure on All Blacks coach Ian Foster was no doubt alleviated a little with the result, which was played in front of a crowd of 46,049 after COVID-restrictions were lifted earlier this month.
“He is a special player and a special kid,” All Blacks captain Sam Cane, who scored his side’s final try, said of the 21-year-old Clarke. “He didn’t let anyone down.”
Clarke’s ability to break tackles was helped by a far better performance from the All Blacks forwards, who had been criticised for a lack of intensity last week.
Some long-standing issues of attacking penetration against an aggressive defence were also laid bare in Wellington, which only increased the pressure on Foster, whose elevation to the coaching role has not been met with universal approval in New Zealand.
The All Blacks, however, rarely have successive poor performances and the Wallabies were well aware that after their 47-26 record victory last year in Perth they were thrashed 36-0 in Auckland the following week.
"They were better this week," Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said after Sunday's result, where the All Blacks only conceded a first half try to Marika Koroibete.
“They got the better of us ... and were very good in turnover and capitalised on our mistakes.”
The Wallabies put the All Blacks under enormous early pressure before the home side started winning collisions and increased the pace of the game and began to break tackles, with fullback Beauden Barrett and Clarke making several strong runs.
Richie Mo'unga slotted a 19th-minute penalty as the territorial pressure told before scrumhalf Aaron Smith scored a try four minutes later from an attacking scrum.
Mo’unga converted to give the All Blacks a 10-0 advantage before the Wallabies again showed how dangerous they can be with the ball in hand when Koroibete crossed after a turnover and James O’Connor’s conversion narrowed the gap to 10-7.
Clarke then was the catalyst for tries within the space of three second half minutes to Barrett and Savea with two powerful runs, the second where he bounced out of several tackles, to give the home side a 20-7 lead.
Some superb defence by Mo'unga stopped Koroibete from scoring his second try shortly after, before hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa had a try overturned by referee Angus Gardner.
Cane finished off a sweeping movement less than 90 seconds later to give them a 27-7 lead that ended the Australian challenge.
“We put a marker down and that has to be the base now, (because) this is (the best) Wallabies team I have seen in a while,” Foster said.
“They stay in the fight and we need to fight for 80 minutes.”