Blindside alley proved a path of gold for the All Blacks as they rampaged through the third quarter to set up a 33–25 win over Australia in the first Bledisloe Cup game at Eden Park on Saturday.
A late three-try burst got the Australians closer from the 33-13 position they were in, but by then the damage had been done, and while the sides scored four tries apiece, Australian first five-eighths Noah Lolesio had a poor night with his goal-kicking, kicking one penalty goal and converting only the last of the tries.
Second five-eighths David Havili and fullback Damian McKenzie had used the blindside to profit, along with superbly-placed passes from halfback Aaron Smith who unleashed his trademark passing variations to help his outsides pierce the Australian defences in the 57th and 63rd minutes.
The game had gone from the visitors, extending their Eden Park bogey, but the plays put distance between the sides that proved decisive in the end. The turnaround after a first half of feeling each other out, and forcing errors, had come on the halftime hooter when wing Sevu Reece scored to give New Zealand a 16-8 lead at the turn.
Then denied a superb length-of-the-field try in the 44th minute, when a marginal forward pass was called on an Aaron Smith pass to lock Brodie Retallick, the All Blacks responded with patience.
Their reward came on the end of an Australian multi-phase play struggling to gain advantage line benefits when first five-eighths Richie Mo’unga picked an intercept pass out of the air to race 70m unchallenged to score.
Growing confidence was evident as the All Blacks started to let loose and wing Rieko Ioane drove into the midfield, his brother, flanker Akira, picked up the ball from the base and punched towards the line.
Smith, again showed his class, when firing a long ball to the left flank where Havili danced around Australian five-eighths Noah Lolesio turning him in and out before reaching out in the tackle and placing the ball on the line for the 57th minute try.
McKenzie followed moments later when putting his speed to use as Smith missed out two close players to give the fullback the chance to use the space to score.
Working their lineout variations with throws to the front of shortened lineouts, long throws to the back, and over the back of the lineout, the Australians had produced the first try when the throw went to second five-eighths Hunter Paisami.
Taking the ball on the fly he was into space and able to link with blindside wing Andrew Kelleway who ran into space to score in the 35th minute.
Responding immediately, the All Blacks restarted with a long kick but in returning it downfield the Australians had captain and flanker Michael Hooper caught offside when ahead of the kick. Kicking to the corner, the All Blacks won the lineout and launched a drive at the line.
Skipper and lock Sam Whitelock had the ball up when pushed towards the line but when he went to ground he was just short. But the ball was retained and it was finally Reece who ducked around the ruck to ground the ball as the halftime hooter sounded.
The two tries made for a lively end to what was an uneventful first half with the only earlier scoring action coming via the goal-kicking boots of the respective five-eighths, Mo’unga, who landed three from three while Lolesio managed one from two for the Australians.
New Zealand had looked to move the ball but were well contained by the Wallabies’ defence, although early on they were also guilty of handling errors. Their early attempts were centred on Havili, but they were cut off close to source.
Conditions were tricky with a strong breeze, sometimes containing rain, blowing in front of a crowd of about 47,000.
There was late reward for Australia as New Zealand paid the price for loosening up, as their substitutes settled into their duties. Fullback Tom Banks was able to score two tries, the first from a sustained build-up and the second when running through on a well-placed grubber kick to the in-goal.
And after the full-time hooter, replacement hooker Jordan Uelese capitalised on a string of penalties in the New Zealand 22m area to score on the back of a lineout drive.
New Zealand 33 (Sevu Reece, Richie Mo’unga, David Havili, Damian McKenzie tries; Richie Mo’unga 2 con, 3 pen)
Australia 25 (Andrew Kellaway, Tom Banks 2, Jordan Uelese tries; Noah Lolesio con, pen). HT: 16-8