AUCKLAND • Wing Caleb Clarke enjoyed a storming first rugby Test start as an aggressive All Blacks downed Australia 27-7 with a rollicking second half in Auckland yesterday to answer their critics after last week's draw.
After the dramatic, 16-16 Bledisloe Cup series opener, the All Blacks led 10-7 at half-time and scored three quick tries after the restart as they piled on 17 unanswered points in the second period.
Clarke, playing in just his second Test, had the 46,049-strong crowd on the edge of their seats every time he touched the ball, skittling defenders and evoking memories of the late former All Black Jonah Lomu as New Zealand played with a renewed physical presence and cohesion.
Wearing the No. 11 jersey that was immortalised by Lomu in the 1990s, the 21-year-old's powerful running set up tries for Jordie Barrett and Ardie Savea within the space of three second-half minutes.
The build-up to Savea's try was a standout as the 1.84m and 107kg Clarke bulldozed his way through most of the Wallabies side before off-loading in sight of the line.
"When you get the ball, just run. You don't have to think about anything," said Clarke, the son of former All Black Eroni, who played alongside Lomu in 1998.
It was the seventh time in the past 13 years that the three-time world champions have started the annual Bledisloe Cup series with a loss or a draw and immediately bounced back.
After being bullied at the breakdown in the first Test, there was added steel to the All Blacks pack with the inclusion of Dane Coles and the tension was evident from the start when almost all 30 players joined in a shoving match between Coles and Taniela Tupou.
"It was tough, but we're so damn happy," said All Blacks captain Sam Cane after finishing off a sweeping movement to end the Australian challenge.
"There was a lot of pressure this week for a relatively new squad in a lot of ways and I'm really proud of the way we stuck to our plan.
"We worked really, really hard and in the end we managed to break them."
The All Blacks went on a blistering run in the second half, scoring 17 without reply in 11 minutes to seal the win.
The four tries-to-one victory extended the All Blacks' impressive record at Eden Park, where they have not lost in 44 Tests since 1994 and where Australia have not won since 1986.
They need to win only one of the two remaining games in the Bledisloe Cup series, which will be played in Australia as part of the upcoming Tri-Nations tournament, to retain the trophy they have held since 2003.
"Tackle execution," Australia coach Dave Rennie said when asked to sum up what the difference in the seven days was, pointing to the Wallabies missing more than 30 tackles in Auckland.
"We missed too many tackles and we got put under the heat for it."
The game was only the second rugby Test played worldwide since March, and in front of packed stands at Eden Park after New Zealand successfully contained the coronavirus outbreak.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS