SYDNEY (AP) — A length of the field try by center Jack Goodhue and a late double from Waisake Naholo spurred New Zealand to a 38-13 win against Australia in the first Bledisloe Cup test, and opening match of the Rugby Championship, on Saturday.
The visiting team was tied down through most of the first half by Australia's swarming defense, which placed pressure on the passing player and produced handling errors which nullified the All Blacks' attacking game.
But New Zealand scored its first try just before halftime, trailing 6-5 at the break, and added five more touchdowns in the second period as fatigue gripped the Wallabies, their set pieces crumbling and their defensive effort waning.
New Zealand secured its 18th victory in 20 tests in Sydney, taking a 1-0 lead in the three-test series for the Bledisloe Cup which it has held through 15 series since 2002.
"We looked after the ball a little bit better after halftime than we did in the first half," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. "We were able to get on the edges of them. That's where the gaps were.
"Our defense set the tone for the whole match. They were only able to score once. We were able to set that standard and it flowed on to our attack."
At the start it was the Wallabies who set the defensive tone. Perhaps mindful of the equivalent test in Sydney last year, when the All Blacks led 40-6 at halftime, Australia threw its energy into an all-or-nothing defensive performance which was successful for the first 30 minutes.
The All Blacks, impatient in their efforts to break down the wall, made too many poor choices in trying to sustain their attack and lost all forward momentum through the first quarter.
It made the Wallabies' backrow veterans David Pocock and Michael Hooper ascendant at breakdowns, further slowing and frustrating New Zealand's attack. Australia edged into a 6-0 lead with penalties to Reece Hodge and Bernard Foley.
The tide turned when the All Blacks finally began to hold the ball for long periods. That forced the Australians to make more tackles and they began to show signs of fatigue in a physical match.
At the same time, Australia's set piece fell apart. It conceded several penalties from scrum collapses and couldn't control its own lineout ball, losing the basis for any attack.
"I was happy going into halftime," Wallabies captain Hooper said. "We applied pressure to the way the Kiwis wanted to attack.
"I was disappointed with the way we held the ball tonight. Obviously our set piece wasn't up to scratch. New Zealand did really well to stop us there and I don't know if we got above three phases tonight, and when we did the Kiwis shifted the ball, moved us and scored within one or two phases."
New Zealand gained a territorial advantage late in the first half, and it produced a try from scrumhalf Aaron Smith. The All Blacks hadn't broken the Australian line until the 39th minute when fullback Ben Smith skipped through a tackle by Lukhan Tui. He passed wide to Naholo who moved the ball back infield through Read to Aaron Smith.
The All Blacks have an extraordinary ability to score around the halftime mark and it showed again when Goodhue opened the second period with a superb try. Naholo stripped the ball from opposite number Marika Koroibete and when the ball was passed deep to Beauden Barrett, five meters from his goal line, he decided to run it, moving it wider to Goodhue.
Rieko Ioane outflanked the defense down the left wing and passed back to Goodhue who dashed away to score. The Wallabies must have known then that another test against New Zealand had slipped from their grasp.
Barrett showed off his array of skills when he pounced on a dropped pass by Dane Haylett-Perry and dribbled the ball on, under pressure from Will Genia, to pick up near the line and score.
All Blacks flyhalf Barrett, out of form before this match, then made a break from one of a number of lineouts lost by the Wallabies in the second half and fed lock Brodie Retallick who scored in his first test since September.
Australia struck back with a try from newcomer Jack Maddocks, who had missed a similar chance minutes earlier.
But the All Blacks were in command and scored again when Barrett put a perfectly-weighted kick into Naholo's path.
Naholo then dived over again in the 74th minute to clinch an emphatic victory.