New Zealand edge Australia 33-25 in an error-strewn opening Bledisloe Cup encounter at Eden Park, Auckland.
Richie Mo’unga once again starred for New Zealand scoring 18 points in another Man of the Match performance in the City of Sails.
There can be no more doubt about the flyhalf’s credentials in world rugby. He is the best player around and has been for a few years.
Despite a spirited last quarter-of-an-hour from Australia, this is now their 21st loss at Eden Park in a row since 1986.
To be fair to Australia, New Zealand has not lost a Test at the famous sports ground since France upset the All Blacks in 1994.
Yet despite the eight-point margin of defeat, Michael Hooper’s side never looked like causing an upset.
Even when they scored before the break, you knew the home team would probably strike either side of the break.
Dave Rennie will need his side to pull off something special at the same venue next week if his side is to level the Trans-Tasman series and overturn a three and a half-decade hoodoo.
Mo’unga was a class apart in a disjointed Bledisloe Cup Test that saw both teams struggle in windy conditions.
Both teams scored four tries apiece but the difference was the two kickers.
Mo’unga missed twice while Lolesio only managed two successful kicks.
The All Blacks scored tries through Sevu Reece, Mo’unga, David Havili, and Damian McKenzie.
Reece also had one of the great Bledisloe tries chalked off for a forward pass by centurian Aaron Smith in the build-up during the second half.
Smith, who became the 10th All Black to reach 100 Test caps and the first halfback to do so, had a superb game.
The 32-year-old scrumhalf assisted Havili’s and McKenzie’s second-half scores and left the field to a standing ovation.
Australia scored through Andrew Kellaway, Tom Banks, who scored twice in the last 10 minutes, and Jordan Uelese in dying seconds.
But it was not enough; too little, too late.
Rusty New Zealand is out of sorts in a stop-start first stanza
Ian Foster – who has had a lot to say about the British & Irish Lions series in South Africa – will need to look at how his team put out one of the “worst halves of rugby in 30 years” (according to Sir John Kirwan on Sky).
New Zealand’s first-half mistakes included four handling errors, seven penalties, eight missed tackles, and six turnovers conceded. Australia was no better.
Foster’s side leaked penalties after the break too, giving away 10 penalties to three as Australia made his side pay.
Had Noah Lolesio not battled with the wind from the tee, this game might have had a different outcome.
Lolesio had a poor day from the tee kicking one penalty and conversion from seven attempts.
The 21-year-old did, however, set up both Banks’ two tries.
The kickers dominated a mistake-ridden first-half as both teams failed to string phases together
Twenty-seven-year-old Mo’unga kicked three penalties in the opening half-hour to put the Kiwis 9-0 ahead.
Lolesio got the Aussies on the board two minutes later before Kellaway struck in the 38th minute.
Australia had struggled with their lineouts up t this point, losing four (two poor throw-ins from Brandon Paenga-Amosa did not help).
But as the half wore on, the visitors looked to attack from a lineout inside All Blacks’ territory.
Paenga-Amosa’s long throw found Hunter Paisami in midfield. Paisami beat two defenders before sending Kellaway away.
Lolesio missed the wide kick which would have put the Wallabies ahead.
New Zealand took an eight-point lead into the break after Reece’s last-ditch score cancelled out Kellaway’s try two minutes later.
The winger picked up the ball at the base of the ruck and darted under the defenders to give his side momentum at the half.
A tale of two halves and a half of two tails as six tries are scored after the break
The hosts pulled clear with three second-half tries in 14 minutes, before the visitors struck three times in the final 10 minutes, which will hearten the men from down under.
Mo’unga, Havili, and McKenzie all crossed to open up a 33-8 65th-minute lead.
Mo’unga, by now, was pulling the strings.
The first five began a counter-attack from his goal-line soon after the restart which ended with Reece scoring after 11 players touched the ball.
The TMO called the referee back because of a forward pass from Smith to Brodie Rettalick on the halfway line.
Although the tourists survived the scare, they could not stop a scintillating attacking spell from the three-time World Champions.
Disaster struck for the Wallabies when a 10-phase attack ended with Mo’unga intercepting a floated cut-out pass from Paisami aimed at Jordan Petaia.
Mo’unga sensed the opportunity and pounced. The flyhalf snatched the ball out of the air and raced 80 metres to score untouched under the posts.
He converted his try to make it 23-8 before an unconverted 58th-minute Havili score opened up a comfortable 20-point advantage.
Havili gathered Smith’s long double-skip pass and shimmied Lolesio, spinning the stand-off like a top before reaching out to score.
McKenzie dived over in the corner six minutes later to effectively end the game following another sustained attack.
Wallabies find their mojo as All Blacks fail to stem late pressure and intensity
Rennie’s charges, to their credit, did not lie down and die; instead, they fought back through some excellent play at the breakdown.
They did not implode, which has not always been the case in these often one-sided affairs.
They held onto the ball better causing the opposition to make mistakes and concede a multitude of penalties as the pressure mounted.
This will give the Kiwis cause for concern because the Aussies dominated the breakdown and gain-line.
The pressure finally turned into points as Rennie’s side hit back.
Banks scored his maiden Test try on 69-minutes after a 10-phase attack inside the opposition’s 22.
The fullback had a second soon after following Lolesio’s deft grubber behind New Zealand’s flat defence.
Uelese’s last-gasp score made the game look closer than it really was.
It will, however, give Australia confidence as they look to end 35 years of pain in Auckland next Saturday.
Final Score: New Zealand 33 (16) Australia 25 (8)
Tries – Reece, Mo’unga, Havili, McKenzie
Pen – Mo’unga (3)
Con – Mo’unga (2)
Tries – Kellaway, Banks (2), Uelese
Pen – Lolesio
Con – Lolesio
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referee 1: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand),
Assistant referee 2: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 David Havili, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith (100th Test), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Jordie Barrett
15 Tom Banks, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Ala’alatoa, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Matt To’omua, 23 Reece Hodge