Bledisloe Cup: All Blacks deny Wallabies golden chance to win back title
Having been mocked in verbal sparring before Test, New Zealand dig deep into wealth of experience to win 36-0
Steve Hansen is likely to concede having a happy headache at the end of Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup match, which his New Zealand side won in Auckland in a canter.
The All Blacks sent out an emphatic message that they are not to be underestimated at the upcoming Rugby World Cup as they bounced back from last week's hiding to thrash Australia's Wallabies 36-0 at Eden Park.
Coach Hansen's reigning world champions were coming off a record 47-26 loss to their trans-Tasman rivals last week in Perth, and before that, they had been less than convincing in Rugby Championship clashes. They edged past Argentina for a 20-16 victory before they drew 16-16 with the Springboks.
Former players, pundits and media across the Tasman Sea suggested the side were ageing and in turmoil five weeks out from the World Cup. "Old Blacks" and "over the hill" were some of the phrases used to describe their state.
But so thoroughly superior were they on the night, that it was the first time since 2012 and the eighth time overall that Australia failed to score in a Test against New Zealand.
The overwhelming victory, just seven days after suffering a record loss to the Australians, saw the All Blacks retain the cup for a 17th straight year. It also meant the Wallabies, who arrived confident they could end years of misery at the All Blacks' Eden Park fortress, go home still winless in Auckland in 19 Tests stretching back to 1986.
Hansen had to shake up his side for the clash, dropping three under-performing senior players, which included wingers Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane. The 60-year-old's gamble to throw George Bridge into his first start in his fourth Test and Sevu Reece into his second match paid off.
The pair were hungry for work, produced at least one-try saving tackle each and scored a try each and Hansen felt that his risk had been rewarded.
"You don't put people in your team if you don't expect them to be able to play at that level," Hansen said.
"We said during the week that we've seen enough of them to be able to cope with being an All Black, and what a wonderful opportunity to see if they can cope with the pressure of such a big occasion.
"They both played very well."
Reece and Bridge were not the only players to put their hands up for World Cup selection, with lock Patrick Tuipulotu producing his best performance in the All Blacks jersey.
Tighthead prop Nepo Laulala also put pressure on Test centurion Owen Franks, who was dropped along with Ioane and Smith, with a strong scrummaging performance and several bursts with the ball in open play.
Veteran midfield back Sonny Bill Williams also proved his fitness after an injury-plagued two seasons, and he managed to lessen the impact of the damaging Samu Kerevi on defence.
Flyhalf Richie Mo'unga also took greater control of the game than he had in the two previous matches when he was paired with Beauden Barrett in the dual playmaker tactics, although he suffered a shoulder injury midway through the second half.
Hansen's depth at flyhalf is at its limit with the uncapped Josh Ioane the third-choice No 10, although he said initial thoughts were that Mo'unga should be fine for the World Cup.
"He's not that bad, doc says he'll be fine," Hansen said. "We'll know more in the morning, but doc's pretty comfortable with where he's at."
Meanwhile, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika insisted Saturday's thrashing had not derailed their World Cup preparations as he drew up a list of errors to be addressed.
"As terribly disappointed as I am, you have to suck it up and get ready for the next one," he said. "I'm not worried. You get punched in the face sometimes, you get hit hard and it's about how you get back up.
"We have to take it, take it on the chin."
Updated: August 17, 2019 05:15 PM