One match away from Bledisloe Cup glory
New Zealand got the inaugural Rugby Championships off to a winning start with an impressive 27-19 win over Australia in Sydney on Saturday.
The Wallabies took and early lead, but the All Blacks then scored 18 unanswered points to take control of the match that doubled as a Bledisloe Cup encounter.
The All Blacks, who have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003, now head to Auckland for the second-round match in the series with a fantastic opportunity of extending their trans-Tasman dominance and retaining some silverware.
You can't score from set pieces, they say. They are wrong.
The All Blacks scored two tries, both from set scrums. They were exquisite tries, the best moments in the match, a strange match that ended with the Wallabies surprisingly close to the All Blacks, who were the better side. That they were so close is probably testimony to Wallaby resoluteness, or perhaps their comparative freshness from steering clear of Super Rugby's end battles.
Both sides ran, even when it looked silly to do so on a perfect night in Sydney with a full house of 76 877 to enjoy the match between the teams ranked No.1 and No.2 in the world.
The scrums were a mess - seven penalties in 16 scrums but then it was a game of many penalties - 15 to the Wallabies, 12 to the All Blacks. By contrast the line-outs were impeccable. Australia threw into 13 and won them all with Scott Higginbotham prominent; the All Blacks threw into 16 and won them all.
On the ground there was a big difference. The All Blacks won the turnovers and in the first half enjoyed the quick ball. For some reason Will Genia preferred inordinately slow ball, slowing down slow ball even further. He is a great scrumhalf but this tactic was bewildering and certainly worked against his side. The Wallaby try came when he allowed his team to play quickly.
The All Blacks won the kicking game. The Wallabies seemed unsure of when to kicking and fiddling near their own line was unprofitable. The All Blacks cleared their lines and then used retrievable kicks to tear into the Wallabies.
In fact the All Blacks had far more chances to score than the Wallabies.
The Wallabies kicked off and Sonny Bill Williams passed forward to put them on the attack. That scrum was then wheeled and, for some reason, the All Blacks were penalised. Berrick Barnes goaled. 3-0 after 2 minutes.
In this early part of the game the momentum was with the Wallabies but then Ma'a Nonu broke and gave to Liam Messam but he could not get the ball to the wing. But now the All Blacks had the momentum.
Benn Robinson was penalised at a scrum and Dan Carter goaled. 3-3 after 10 minutes. The Wallabies were ahead for 10 minutes of the match.
Then came the first try. There was a scrum to New Zealand in midfield and Carter, who had been lurking behind, went left. Williams and Hosea Gear were in the line but Carter slipped the pass to Israel Dagg who raced down the touchline, easily beating Kurtley Beale for the try. 10-3 after 14 minutes.
At this stage the All Blacks were putting huge pressure on the Wallabies who looked jittery. Robinson was penalised at a tackle and Carter made it 13-3 18 minutes.
Then Genia had a splendid break to put his side on the attack. The Wallabies bashed but their ball became slower and slower until Nathan Sharpe was penalised and the All Blacks relieved pressure.
The Wallabies had difficulties with handling. Once Higginbotham knocked on an inside pass from Beale, killing a promising movement, and once Beale knocked a simple pass to yield the scrum which became the second All Blacks' try.
From the scrum on their left, not too far from the Wallaby line, they went wide right and Dagg got a quick pass to Corey Jane who beat Beale and scored. 18-3 after 34 minutes.
Then just before half-time Barnes broke sharply and then, off quick ball, Digby Ioane broke sharply right to the All Back line. Again the Wallabies got quick ball and Sharpe surged over through Kieran Read's tackle. 18-10 after 39 minutes, the half-time score which flattered the home side.
Three penalties - Barnes, Carter, Barnes, made the score 21-16 to the All Blacks after 49 minutes in a half that went without tries.
There was a promising counter by Dagg but his pass strayed into touch. David Pocock was penalised at a tackle and Carter made it 24-16 after 62 minutes.
The All Blacks attacked down the left and Messam gave to Gear but Adam Ashley-Cooper thumped him into touch at the cornerpost.
The Wallabies tried running near their line, Radike Samo knocked on and Jane lost the ball at the line with no-one in front of him.
The Wallabies got down the other end, Ben Franks was offside and Barnes made it 24-19, the Wallabies were in bonus-point range and one try from winning with five minutes to go.
The Wallabies played with greater zest and the All Blacks looked slightly anxious but Andrew Hore won an iumportant turnover and Dagg kicked downfield. Ashley-Cooper got back to the ball but Jane forced him back over his line for a five-metre scrum. The siren went and James Slipper was penalised. Carter took away the Wallabies' bonus point by goaling the penalty.
Man of the Match: Israel Dagg who plays with such verve and skill and every sign of enjoying the evening.
Moment of the Match: Israel Dagg's try from a scrum.
Villain of the match: Nobody.
Pens: Barnes 5
For New Zealand:
Tries: Dagg, Jane
Pens: Carter 5
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 David Pocock (captain), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Michael Hooper, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Drew Mitchell.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)