New Zealand thrashes Australia 36-0 to retain Bledisloe Cup

All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala carries the ball against Australia during a Bledisloe Cup rugby test between the All Blacks and Australia at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. (Brett Phibbs/SNPA via AP)

All Blacks rediscover their physical side to beat Wallabies 36-0, retain Bledisloe Cup

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — An All Blacks team chastened by a record-breaking defeat a week ago rallied superbly to beat Australia 36-0 in the return test Saturday and extended its 17-year hold on the Bledisloe Cup and a 33-year winning streak at Eden Park.

The Wallabies won the first test of the two-match series 47-26 in Perth last weekend, posting their highest-ever score against New Zealand in Australia and exposing a range of weaknesses in an All Blacks team which will defend the World Cup in Japan from next month.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen responded with six changes to his starting lineup, dropping two of his most experienced players, and the All Blacks re-discovered the physical aspect of their game which was missing last week and has been for most of the last two years.

Tries to flyhalf Richie Mo'unga and scrumhalf Aaron Smith within three minutes in the first half set New Zealand on course to a 17-0 lead at halftime, though it ended the half with hooker Dane Coles in the sin-bin.

A try to center Sonny Bill Williams within five minutes of the re-start made the lead 24-0 and all but stamped out the possibility of a Wallabies resurgence.

Wingers Sevu Reece and George Bridge, with only six tests between them, both finished the match with tries. Reece, in only his second test, reclaimed his own fly kick to score in the 67th minute and Bridge capped a five tries to nil win.

The reasons for the rapid improvement in the All Blacks' performance were easily identified.

A torrential rain shower just before kickoff made the ground slippery in the first half and the All Blacks used an accurate kicking game to good effect. The Wallabies had more possession but in conditions in which it was often better not to have ball in hand.

The first real omen of the All Blacks' resurgence came at the first scrum in the third minute. The Wallabies pack warped, twisted and thrust back the New Zealand scrum a week ago but on Saturday a reorganized All Blacks pack bulldozed the Australian scrum at that first contest and throughout the match.

New Zealand won a penalty from that scrum from which Mo'unga kicked for the first points of the match. Nepo Laulala took over from 108-test veteran Owen Franks at tighthead prop and brought renewed vigor to the front row.

The All Blacks lineout was shaky at times but, with a better set piece platform, they were able to achieve the go-forward they lacked a week ago and which gave the Wallabies the basis of their victory.

Australia scrum half Nic White, whose sniping runs from a solid forward base tormented the All Blacks in Perth, was nullified Saturday and replaced after only 50 minutes.

Coles was shown a yellow card for a "judo throw" on White in the 38th minute.

The All Blacks, forward and backs, carried the ball with real purpose, breaching the gain line and putting sustained pressure on the Australia defense. Back rower Ardea Savea was especially effective in carrying through tackles.

That meant the Wallabies weren't able to rush up in defense as they had done a week earlier, to pick off the New Zealand ball carriers and keep the All Blacks on the back foot.

New Zealand was able to get the ball wide and new wingers Reece and Bridge brought new energy to the All Blacks' attacking game.

The defense of the All Blacks forwards also eclipsed the performance in Perth and captain Kieran Read and lock Patrick Tuipulotu especially made punishing tackles.

The All Blacks set out with determination not to be bullied, as they have been in recent games. They expressed that determination with a fiery pre-match haka and by the end had given their fans more confidence in the state of their World Cup defense.

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