NZ beats Australia 37-20 to sweep Bledisloe Cup series
New Zealand beat Australia 37-20 in the third Bledisloe Cup test in Yokohama on Saturday to sweep the three-match series, but the Wallabies gave some hope to teams which will face defending champion All Blacks in the World Cup in Japan next year.
While the All Blacks led throughout the match and won by five tries to two, the Wallabies still found some vulnerability which will educate potential World Cup opponents.
The start and end of the match belonged to the All Blacks, who had their best moment in a mixed performance when they created a set-piece try to flyhalf Beauden Barrett in the 58th minute. Another try to winger Rieko Ioane, created by a between-the-legs pass from Barrett, showed the flyhalf has lost none of his creativity.
But the middle of the match, the section on either side of halftime, belonged to the Wallabies who showed that under consistent pressure the New Zealand defense can be suspect.
The All Blacks benefited once more from superior fitness and depth. They went to their bench and gained strength while the Wallabies went to theirs and forfeited some quality. The All Blacks were able to rely on the strength of their set piece when it mattered, placing Australia under pressure at lineouts and scrums where it weakened as the match went on.
Australia showed it could test New Zealand when it held on to the ball, which it did much more successfully than in the first two tests of the series, which New Zealand won 38-13 and 40-12. By doing so, Australia scored a brilliant try through winger Sefa Naivalu immediately before halftime to cut the All Blacks' lead to 17-10 at the break.
But an 80-minute performance again eluded Australia which lacked the clinical touch the All Blacks brought to the late stages of the game.
The sin-binning of hooker Tolu Latu late in the match for a silly push on his All Blacks opposite also cost the Wallabies and they conceded two tries in his absence.
"You're not allowed to strike someone in the face so it was pretty dumb too, wasn't it," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "If you do dumb things, you get dumb reactions."
The All Blacks again showed an ability to exploit Wallaby lapses.
"I felt we were just able to control the game, we were a good enough side," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. "You've got to play what the game presents and the scoreboard went out way early.
"We tried to maintain that bit of a buffer and make them chase the game. We showed some great patience with the ball and connected well together."
The structure of the New Zealand defense remains hazy under new defensive coach Scott McLeod and, after conceding 30 or more points in back-to-back tests against South Africa, it is an area which is still a concern.
The Wallabies tried to go wide through long passes or cross kicks early in the match and found that tactic unsuccessful. When they were more direct and carried the ball strongly, they exposed weaknesses on the fringes of breakdowns and in the 10-12 channel where center Sonny Bill Williams was often an absentee.
The All Blacks used two playmakers in Barrett and fullback Damian McKenzie who had mixed games. Barrett showed his brilliance in his try and a move with McKenzie immediately beforehand which began with a chip kick and almost ended with a try. But McKenzie was too lateral on attack and both players' displayed poor kicking, handing possession to Australia at crucial times.
Australia used a backline rotation which eventually became a weakness. Israel Folau started at center but alternated on the wing and at fullback, while Dane Haylett-Perry also swapped from fullback to the wing or midfield along with Marika Koroibete.
Folau wasn't strong enough in defense for center but one of the highlights of the match for the Wallabies was the form of wingers Naivalu and Koroibete, who were both potent on attack.
New Zealand exploited defensive lapses by the Wallabies in the first half to score tries through backrowers Liam Squire and Read, who walked through non-existent defense to score from a five-meter scrum in the 35th.
Naivalu's try made the game interesting and the Wallabies were on top at that point but weren't able to sustain a level of performance. While Folau gave them a late try, New Zealand capped its win with tries to fullback Ben Smith and winger Ioane, his 22nd in 22 tests and his 11th this year.
"New Zealand yet again produced an 80-minute performance and we weren't able to do that," Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said. "It's a bit of a punch in the face when you come out with a scoreboard like that but we've got to dissect this game. We've taken a lot out of the last two weeks."