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The Qantas Wallabies opened a new era under Head Coach Ewen McKenzie with a bright, attacking display before going down 47-29 against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium in Sydney tonight in the opening match of this year’s Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship.
The highlight for the Wallabies was an impressive performance from new cap, Melbourne-born Matt Toomua, one of five new caps on the night for Australia, and a scintillating solo try from Reds scrumhalf Will Genia late in the first half which set the exuberant crowd of 68,765 alight.
Conditions were perfect with dry conditions and a temperate 18 degrees making it a superb night for playing and watching Rugby.
The All Blacks went close in just the first minute when a knock on by Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore saw New Zealand launch a counter attack which ended with a kick from wing Ben Smith being bundled into touch by the Wallabies near the right hand corner.
The All Blacks won the ball from the line out and drove the maul towards the Wallabies line but courageous defence from Australia’s forwards held them out. New Zealand retained the ball however and after multiple phases Smith went over in the corner where he had been denied just a minute before.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden landed the conversion from near the touchline and the All Blacks were up 7-0 after just three minutes.
The Wallabies had a chance to reduce the lead after six minutes but Jesse Mogg’s penalty attempt from over 40 metres faded to the right. But Brumbies team mate Christian Leali’ifano was successful with two penalty attempts in the 7th and 12th minutes to bring the score back to 7-6.
The game was developing into a fast open contest with both teams keen to make use of the excellent conditions and entertain the big crowd.
Adam Ashley-Cooper made a superb break on 15 minutes, after a perfectly timed pass from Leali-ifano, but just when it seemed the Tahs veteran was through to score he was pulled down by some desperate All Blacks cover defence.
Cruden make it 10-6 with a well taken penalty after 19 minutes but Leali’ifano hit straight back a minute later with his third penalty to make it 10-9.
The Wallabies however continued to look dangerous with new flyhalf Matt Toomua slotting in beautifully alongside scrumhalf Will Genia and releasing the Wallabies outside backs with wings James O’Connor and Israel Folau prominent.
Closer in Western Force flanker Hugh McMeniman was giving the Wallabies some great go forward.
The Wallabies enterprising play was rewarded with another penalty to Leali’ifano which took the Wallabies into the lead 12-10 in the 28th minute.
But straight from the kick off disaster struck with Leali’ifano’s clearing kick charged down by Cruden, who followed up the rebound to score. Cruden converted his own try to make it 17-12 after 29 minutes.
Three minutes later the All Blacks were in again with this time captain Richie McCaw finishing off some good lead up work diving over in the right hand corner. Cruden however was unsuccessful with the conversion but the All Blacks were out to a 22-12 lead.
Then right on the shadow of half time, Genia, as he has done so often for Australia, scored a superb solo try to put the Wallabies right back in it.
The All Blacks spilled the ball at a lineout in the Wallabies 22, and NSW flanker Michael Hooper scooped up the ball and set off down field. He found Genia on the inside who sprinted away eluding Cruden, Aaron Smith and finally Israel Dagg on a weaving 60 metre run to score under the posts. Leali’ifano converted to make it a three point game.
A late Cruden penalty took the All Blacks out to 25-19 at the break, before Leali’ifano added his fifth penalty six minutes into the second half to take it back to 25-22.
The Wallabies continued to look dangerous as Reds lock Rob Simmons, having one of his best games for Australia, stole a lineout.
But the All Blacks launched a counter attack after wing Julian Savea leapt high to take an attacking kick and a few phases later Aaron Smith cut through and put centre Conrad Smith over under the posts. It was the All Blacks fourth try and brought up a bonus point. Cruden converted to make it 32-22.
The All Blacks were over again a minute later with Ben Smith picking up his second but this time Cruden hit the post with the conversion, his second close call of the evening.
The Wallabies were down 37-22 but with both teams committed to attack there was definitely more points left in the match, with a Wallabies come back still on the cards.
McKenzie went to the bench bringing on new cap Tevita Kuridrani for his Brumbies team mate Mogg, Reds flanker Liam Gill for McMeniman, Sekope Kepu for Ben Alexander and the returning Quade Cooper for Toomua.
Australia continued to play attacking, open Rugby but the All Blacks were next to score with another penalty to Cruden making it 40-22 on 65 minutes.
Saia Fainga’a came on for Moore in the 70th minute with another young Brumbies star, prop Scott Sio also making his Test debut, coming on for James Slipper.
Ben Smith put the result out of doubt completing his hat trick in the 71st minute with an opportunist try, converted from the sideline by replacement Beauden Barrett.
Two more Brumbies made their Test debuts late in the match with scrumhalf Nic White coming on for Genia and lock Scott Fardy on for Ben Mowen.
A late consolation try to O’Connor, set up by Cooper, was no less than the Wallabies deserved, as they continued to attack for the full eighty minutes. Leali’ifano added the conversion to cap a strong all round display from the Brumbies No.12.
CASTROL EDGE RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Full Time Score
All Blacks 47 (Ben Smith 3, Aaron Cruden, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith tries; Cruden 3 penalties, 3 conversions; Beauden Barrett conversion) defeated Qantas Wallabies 29 (Will Genia, James O’Connor tries; Christian Leali’ifano 2 conversions; 5 penalties) at ANZ Stadium, Sydney. (Referee: Craig Joubert) (Crowd: 68,765) (Half Time: All Blacks 25 – Wallabies 19)