AUCKLAND (AFP) - Wing Caleb Clarke enjoyed a storming first Test start as an aggressive All Blacks downed Australia 27-7 with a rollicking second half in Auckland on Sunday (Oct 18) 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.
Bruising wing Clarke, who had the crowd on the edge of their seats every time he touched the ball, skittled defenders and evoked memories of Jonah Lomu as the All Blacks played with a renewed physical presence and cohesion.
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 before immediately bouncing back.
"It was tough, but we're so damn happy," said All Blacks captain Sam Cane. "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 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 now 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.
However, while the All Blacks set a "marker" with their convincing win, they must keep improving if they want to retain the Bledisloe Cup, new coach Ian Foster said.
"That's the level we need to start at," he said. "Was it a perfect performance, no it wasn't... We've just got to climb because it's a tough series. This is a better Wallabies team than I've seen for a while and they want to stay in the fight."
"They were better this week, they raised the bar and got ahead of us," said Australia captain Michael Hooper. "We'll go back home now, getting a couple of days off and regroup. You know, we're building. A hit to the confidence a bit today, but we'll go again."
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.
When the dust settled, it was constant Wallabies attack for most of the first quarter until a carving run by fullback Beauden Barrett put the All Blacks deep in Australian territory, where fly-half Richie Mo'unga opened the scoring with a handy penalty.
Barrett, Sam Cane and Aaron Smith were frequently able to highlight frailties in the Wallabies defensive wall and within five minutes of Mo'unga's penalty, they had the All Blacks back on attack where Smith darted around a ruck to score from close range.
Ned Hanigan, wearing gold for the first time in two years, set up the Wallabies' try with a strong run up to the line, creating a huge overlap which saw Marika Koroibete finish off the move unopposed.
But when play resumed in the second half, it was a three-try All Blacks blitz in the opening 13 minutes as Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea and Sam Cane crossed the line in quick succession.
Savea's try was off a blockbusting run by Clarke, starting for the first time after coming off the bench last week, as he brushed off would-be tacklers in a 30m run.
"I'm just really happy it's over," Clarke said of his full debut. "It was a hard sleep last night trying to settle down the nerves. This whole week has been awesome and I'm just glad to finish on a good note."
The Wallabies had chances to add to their total but Koroibete was denied one try when he was held up over the line and another when he was brought down just short of the line.
The game was only the second rugby Test worldwide since March, and was played in front of packed stands at Eden Park after New Zealand successfully contained its coronavirus outbreak.