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Ruthless All Blacks teach Wallabies lesson in Bledisloe Cup opener

The Guardian logo The Guardian 19/08/2017 Bret Harris at ANZ Stadium
Ben Smith is congratulated by team-mate Sonny Bill Williams after scoring a try during the opening Bledisloe Test match in Sydney. © Reuters Ben Smith is congratulated by team-mate Sonny Bill Williams after scoring a try during the opening Bledisloe Test match in Sydney.

There was hope it would be the start of something big, the resuscitation of Australian rugby no less – a Wallabies-led recovery which would bring the game in this country back from a near death experience. But it turned out to be a sad, forlorn longing, crushed by the weight of 23 men in black.

Some claimed there were cracks in the All Blacks’ armour. Sex scandals, bugging dramas and even a spelling crisis, but the only cracks were in the Wallabies’ defence.

All Black off-field indiscipline (Sky Sports)

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The All Blacks out-scored the Wallabies eight tries to four in their 54-34 win, setting a new record for points against Australia in a game which produced the second highest combined number of points, 88, in a Tri Nations/Rugby Championship Test. All Blacks Winger Rieko Ioane and centre Ryan Crotty both collected doubles.

Instead of lifting spirits, the Wallabies defeat just created more despair to go with the gloom of Australia’s 0-26 win-loss record against Kiwi opposition in Super Rugby and the culling of the Western Force.

Australian rugby desperately needed a Wallabies win to arrest the alarming decline of the game. Yet no one truly thought they could win, certainly not the fans. A crowd of only 54,846 showed up and a lot of supporters were Kiwis or, say it quietly, dual citizens. The large number of black coats, jumpers and jackets darkened the mood.

It was the worst crowd for a Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney since they started playing at the 2000 Olympic venue in Homebush, but it was slightly better than some feared it might be, which unthinkably, was sub-50,000.

The All Blacks led 40-6 at half-time, setting a record for the most number of points they have scored against the Wallabies in a first-half. Australian five-eighth Bernard Foley opened the scoring with a penalty goal in the fourth minute after the All Blacks failed to roll away from the tackled player in their 22.

But the All Blacks soon exploited a weakness in the Wallabies’ short-side defence. Flanker Liam Squire scored the first try of the game in the ninth minute after finishing an attacking movement on the left hand side with Wallabies winger Henry Speight rushing out of the line in the midfield to create an overlap.

Foley edged the Wallabies closer, 7-6, with another penalty goal in the 16th minute after the All Blacks collapsed a scrum. But the visitors then blew the game apart, scoring 33 unanswered points in the next 24 minutes.

Ioane scored his first try in the 17th minute in the left hand corner after getting around Wallabies fullback Israel Folau. He was over again three minutes later, scoring a classic All Blacks try off turnover ball. A pass from Wallabies captain Michael Hooper to halfback Will Genia went to ground and the ball was scooped up by Crotty, who put Ioane away.

Crotty scored in the 24th minute. Five-eighth Beauden Barrett looped around lock Brodie Retallick and slipped a pass to Crotty. By this point the Wallabies had already missed 27 tackles. Sonny Bill Williams scored in the 33rd minute, crashing over between rugby league convert Curtis Rona and Speight.

Crotty collected his double on the stroke of half-time after receiving a cut-out pass from halfback Aaron Smith and darting over. And All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie scored his first Test try in the 42nd minute to effectively put an end to any chance of a Wallabies comeback win.

All Blacks winger Ben Smith scored in the 47th minute after taking an inside ball from Aaron Smith, while Rona, replacement centre Tevita Kuridrani, centre Kurtley Beale and Folau scored consolation tries for the Wallabies, but even that was too little too late.

The Wallabies now travel to Dunedin where they will try to level the series on Saturday night. If it is any consolation the last time the Wallabies won in New Zealand was in Dunedin, but that was in 2001.

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