Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Smith bags brace as All Blacks march on

Ben Smith bagged a brace to add to his first Test hat-trick
Ben Smith bagged a brace to add to his first Test hat-trick

New Zealand retained the Bledisloe Cup for an 11th successive year with a comprehensive 27-16 win over Australia at Westpac Stadium.

Winger Ben Smith made it five tries in two Tests when adding a brace to his first Test hat-trick, while debutant fly-half Tom Taylor kept the points coming with a conversion and four penalty goals.

The Wallabies' try, scored by winger Israel Folau, came from an intercept, but Australia's forwards were taken to the cleaners by the All Blacks.

The home team were unable to achieve the attacking thrust of the first Test, which they won 47-29 in Sydney, due to a more determined Australian defensive effort and with Taylor there was a more assured look to New Zealand's play.

Israel Dagg found another gear. Kicking the ball to him was a wasted exercise by Australia because if it was not returned with interest then it was run back at them, either by Dagg or in liaison with his wingers Julian Savea and Smith.

His only blemish was being stood up by Folau for Australia's only try in the 72nd minute.

Australia made a lively start, with flanker Michael Hooper again setting the pace at the breakdown and in support play.

He was an early menace while blindside support Scott Fardy was also prominent in linking roles.

Prop James Slipper appeared to be something of a battering ram and the Australians lost something when he was forced from the field after 35 minutes.

There was more variety in their field play, but still not quite the accuracy to put the pressure on the home team.

After an early foray or two forward from the All Blacks, capitalising on charge downs of kicks by half-back Will Genia, the Australians created pressure in New Zealand's quarter.

It took an intensive defensive effort from the home team to keep their line intact and the only reward for Australia was a sixth-minute penalty goal from Christian Lealiifano.

However, that resulted in a positive response from the All Blacks, who took advantage of a superb midfield thrust from Smith after a pass from Taylor, who had already announced his arrival with a break from his first touch of the ball.

Smith created a play which almost produced a chance for Savea and, when Australia cleared from the lineout, Dagg again opened the defence which almost provided another chance for Savea.

However, after missing a penalty goal attempt, the Australians went back on the attack and it was Lealiifano who took a superb gap following a pass from hooker Stephen Moore.

It was only a desperate tackle by Aaron Smith that denied the try, but a penalty was conceded and Lealiifano took Australia to a 6-0 lead.

But, inevitably, that drew a response from the All Blacks.

Another high kick from Dagg was followed up and secured by number eight Kieran Read. The ball was moved to the short side where Savea fed Dagg and he found flanker Steve Luatua at hand and his pass put wing Smith in for his fourth try in two Tests.

The All Blacks loose forwards then combined to create the second try for Smith.

Richie McCaw secured a ball dropped by the Australians and as play moved across the field, it was Read who tidied and Luatua burst on to the ball and into wide open space to almost reach the line. Despite being tackled, he showed good ball skills to release the ball and then pick up again, which provided vital moments for Dagg to feed Smith in again just on half-time.

At the start of the second half, James O'Connor made a stunning 50-metre break which created clear space, and it was only his hesitation on whether to go alone or to pass to Genia that stifled the move and in subsequent play the All Blacks won a penalty and cleared the line.

The All Blacks' scrum power started to take over in the middle stages of the second half and it was from one pressure scrum that Taylor landed his second penalty goal in the 53rd minute.

Lealiifano responded with three points but another penalty followed for Taylor before Folau's converted try gave the scoreline a more respectable look for Australia.

However, there was no way back for the Wallabies and further penalties from Taylor and Dagg merely emphasised New Zealand's dominance.

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