Australia 34 New Zealand 54: All Blacks run riot before Wallabies rally
The gloom surrounding Australian rugby union deepened on Saturday as the Wallabies suffered a 54-34 defeat to New Zealand in an action-packed opening match of the Rugby Championship.
Michael Cheika's side may have been clear underdogs at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, but few could have anticipated just how dominant their opponents would be in an embarrassingly one-sided opening 50 minutes, before Australia rallied with the match well beyond them.
Playing with a devastating mix of pace and precision, the All Blacks crossed six times before the interval to end the game as a contest - Rieko Ioane and Ryan Crotty each claiming braces as Damian McKenzie justified his selection at full-back with a series of dazzling breaks.
McKenzie went over for a score of his own early in the second half with Australia continuing to demonstrate alarming fragility in defence and when Beauden Barrett converted Ben Smith's 48th-minute try, the score read 54-6 in favour of the visitors.
To their credit, the Wallabies rallied to score four tries in 17 minutes, through debutant Curtis Rona, Tevita Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau, but it was hard to escape the feeling that the All Blacks felt their job was already done by that stage.
After racking up a record points haul against their rivals, New Zealand can now look forward to another Bledisloe Cup clash in Dunedin next weekend. The outcome of that match appears inevitable despite Australia's belated fightback on Saturday.
The Wallabies actually started brightly and opened the scoring through a Bernard Foley penalty before Liam Squire surged down the left flank for New Zealand's first try.
A second three-pointer from Foley reduced the All Blacks' advantage, but the rest of the first half proved painful in the extreme for the hosts.
Ioane skinned Folau to score in the left corner, before coming up in support of Crotty for a breakaway try after the centre had pulled off an interception.
Crotty then took a delightful short pass from Barrett to register his first try and surged through a huge hole in the Wallabies defence to go over again after Sonny Bill Williams had also scored.
New Zealand's lead was up to a remarkable 48 points within nine minutes of the second half. Ioane laid on a try for the impressive McKenzie after Michael Hooper had lost the ball to Barrett and Ben Smith went over from namesake Aaron's inside pass.
As the benches emptied, Rona and Kuridrani's tries provided a measure of relief for the home fans, while Beale picked up a loose ball to score from distance.
More sloppy defending from the All Blacks enabled Folau to go over as well, but New Zealand were still comfortable winners.