Australia 29 New Zealand 47: Ben Smith Treble Lights Up Richie McCaw Return

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Australia 29 New Zealand 47: Ben Smith Treble Lights Up Richie McCaw Return
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Australia 29 (Genia, O'Connor, Penalties: Lealifano (5), Conversions: Lealifano (2))

New Zealand 47 (Smith (3), McCaw, Smith, Cruden, Penalties: Cruden (3), Conversions: Cruden (3), Barrett)

 

New Zealand legend Richie McCaw returned to the international arena to lead his team to a six-try 47-29 drubbing of Australia in the opening match of the Rugby Championship at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

The All Blacks skipper had been absent from the Test arena for nine months but marked his comeback with a try as the visitors overran the Wallabies in the second period after an enthralling first half.

McCaw, who had taken a six-month sabbatical, had played just one club match and two replacement appearances for Canterbury Crusaders, but his presence was a major factor in the handsome victory over Australia.

Ben Smith scored a hat-trick of tries for New Zealand while Aaron Cruden proved hugely effective with the boot as he replaced the injured Dan Carter. Centre Conrad Smith was the engine in the team.

For new Wallabies head coach Ewen McKenzie, it proved to be a baptism of fire, but his team still recorded their highest number of points over New Zealand since 2008.

However, Australia must now record two wins in New Zealand to claim a first Bledisloe Cup since 2002, as they failed in their attempt to bounce back from the series defeat to the British & Irish Lions in the summer.

New Zealand took only three minutes to serve notice of their intent when Ben Smith crossed the line after a great flick pass from fly-half Cruden, who also converted to hand the visitors an early lead.

Australia full-back Jesse Mogg had an immediate opportunity to claw back the deficit with a penalty but was wide of the target, but Christian Leali'ifano scored with a penalty from in front of the posts within moments to make the scoreline 7-3.

Leali'ifano was on target again to bring the Wallabies to within a point of the visitors after after McCaw had given away a penalty in the 13th minute.

Australia were in the ascendancy and a forceful run from Adam Ashley-Cooper split the New Zealand team down the middle, but his efforts came to nothing as the visitors regrouped swiftly.

Cruden opened up a four-point gap for New Zealand midway through the first half when he sent over a penalty from 37 metres, but Leali'ifano hit his third penalty from three attempts moments later to keep the Wallabies in touch at 9-10.

In the 27th minute, McCaw entered the wrong side of a ruck and the Wallabies took full advantage as Leali'ifano sent over the penalty to give the home side a 12-10 lead.

Australia were finding some momentum, but Leali'ifano misjudged a clearance, slamming the ball into Cruden and the fly-half crossed with the rebound before converting the try.

McCaw then touched down to record his ninth Test try against Australia, beating David Campese's previous best in the Bledisloe Cup. But the All Blacks captain owed his try to a great pass from Conrad Smith. Cruden's conversion attempt struck the post before dropping on to the bar and back into the field of play.

The penetrative power of New Zealand had opened up a 10-point gap at 12-22, but the Wallabies were in no mood to roll over.

An overthrow from Andrew Hore at a line-out allowed Michael Hooper to push the ball to scrum-half Will Genia, who ran 65 metres to cross the line before Leali'ifano converted.

Cruden struck a penalty in the final throes of a breathless first half to make it 25-19 to New Zealand at the interval.

Leali'ifano drew first blood in the second half with a penalty from under the posts after Sam Whitelock came off his feet in a ruck.

Great work by the All Blacks produced a fine response when Conrad Smith found space to cross the line after a pass by namesake, Ben, and Cruden slotted the conversion to make it 32-22 to the All Blacks.

New Zealand were now looking to kill the game off and a great passing movement allowed Ben Smith to cross for his second try before Cruden's conversion struck the post.

Another Cruden penalty under the posts brought up the 40-points mark for the All Blacks and left Australia with an uphill struggle with 15 minutes remaining.

Ben Smith completed his hat-trick in the 72nd minute when he swooped on a loose ball before powering over the line. Cruden's replacement Beuden Barrett sent over the conversion to make it 47-22 to the visitors.

James O'Connor grabbed a consolation try for the Wallabies before Leali'ifano converted with the final kick of the match.

 

Man of the match: Conrad Smith, New Zealand

While much of the attention was bound to be on McCaw's return and Ben Smith's subsequent hat-trick of tries, it was Conrad Smith who proved to b the major difference for the All Blacks.

The 31-year-old might be approaching veteran status but his experience in engineering and scoring opportunities at the ANZ Stadium on Saturday was indicative of a player still at his peak.

Conrad Smith will take his own sabbatical once the Rugby Championship is completed, but he is clearly intent on heading out on a high.

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