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August 18, 2012

Rusty All Blacks strangle Wallabies out of The Rugby Championship's opening match

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Rusty All Blacks strangle Wallabies out of The Rugby Championship's opening match

By SANZAR News Service and allblacks.com

Superior defence wrung the spirit out of Australia as the All Blacks claimed a 27-19 victory to open The Rugby Championship season in Sydney on Saturday evening.

Consistently catching the Australians behind the advantage line, the All Blacks prevented the Australian dangermen, halfback Will Genia, wing Digby Ioane and fullback Kurtley Beale, from having any influence on the outcome.

And when the Australians got within five points and looked to steal a late win, the powerful defence killed off any chance the home team. It was a turnover steal by replacement hooker Andrew Hore, and a long downfield kick by fullback Israel Dagg, two minutes from the end, that finally killed the Australian chances.

Dan Carter landed a penalty goal on fulltime to make it 17 points for the game from a conversion and five penalty goals.

Australia narrowed a 15-point margin to five points early in the second half but were unable to string together enough attacking opportunities to consistently test the All Blacks line. A solid period of control through the middle stages of the second half was a case of both sides looking for the winning breakthrough.

Ultimately, Australia paid the price for a lackadaisical first half which belied the time spent in preparation by the home side ahead of the match.

New Zealand owed a lot to its front five, hooker Keven Mealamu having an outstanding game foraging for ball at the breakdown while newcomer lock Luke Romano had a strong game. Flanker Liam Messam was also prominent in the first three-quarters while when the pressure went on captain Richie McCaw led from the front with some surging runs.

No.8 Kieran Read made some powerful tackles as he marked his return to top rugby.

However, it wasn't a perfect display by the All Blacks by any stretch and with handling errors, and poor choices in passing, another intensive week of preparation is likely ahead of next week's return match.

The All Blacks took time to get over the Australian scrum, but a powerful tighthead in the 66th minute produced a penalty which took the All Blacks into an attacking position which ended with Hosea Gear bundled into touch by the corner flag.

Beale had a shocker of a first half, beaten by both try scorers, he had handling woes, the most obvious of which created the second try of the game.

Early penalty goals were traded by the five-eighths, Berrick Barnes for Australia after two minutes and Carter in the ninth minute.

But at the first opportunity afterwards, from a midfield scrum, Read fed the ball left to Carter who ran wide, and then passed behind second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams and Gear while Dagg looped behind Gear along the sideline. He then beat Beale on the outside to score wide out.

Australia stepped into catch-up mode but failed to secure from two opportunities, the first from a tap penalty taken by Genia but the All Blacks defences held superbly and then in the 33rd minute a charge down of a Barnes kick opened up a chance. The ball was taken on the rebound by Beale and he in-passed to No.8 Scott Higginbotham and he dropped the ball cold.

From the scrum the ball was cleared downfield by Carter but Genia's in pass to Beale was also dropped. Another scrum provided a chance for another set piece play where Read tidied the ball to feed halfback Aaron Smith running wide. The ball moved through Carter and Dagg whose quick hands created space on the outside for right wing Cory Jane to also go around Beale to score wide out.

From the restart the Australians secured the ball and from a maul the ball was retained and it was wing Ioane who made a strong run close to the ruck to set up the chance for lock Nathan Sharpe to cross by the posts. Barnes' conversion made the half-time score 18-10.