Will Genia scored a stunning try for the Qantas Wallabies but it was not enough as they fell to defeat against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship opener, their first game since the British & Irish Lions tour this summer.
The world champion All Blacks, who will host the Lions for the 2017 tour, welcomed Richie McCaw back after a nine-month absence and winger Ben Smith notched a hat-trick in their 47-29 win.
Since losing the Lions series 2-1, the Wallabies have rung the changes with Ewen McKenzie the new head coach in place of the departed Robbie Deans.
And while it was certainly an impressive first-half showing from the Australians in Sydney, they were once again undone by an all-conquering New Zealand side for whom McCaw, Conrad Smith and Aaron Cruden all crossed in addition to Ben Smith’s triple.
The winger’s first came in only the second minute in the ANZ Stadium after some fine work from Cruden, who stepped in at fly-half in place of the injured Dan Carter.
But Wallabies centre Christian Leali’ifano, who made his debut in the British & Irish Lions series this summer, slotted four penalties in the first half as the hosts refused to buckle.
But no sooner had they taken the lead for the first time at 12-10 than they found themselves back behind as Leali’ifano dawdled on the ball and his attempted clearance was charged down by Cruden who then dived on the ball for easiest try of his young international career.
Three minutes later and the Kiwis were threatening to run away with it as McCaw dived over in the right-hand corner.
The Wallabies needed a response and fast and they got it from scrum-half Genia, the maestro collecting a Michael Hooper inside ball and sprinting a full 70m for a crucial try that was more than a little reminiscent of the No.9’s solo run in the first British & Irish Lions Test in Brisbane.
That meant that at 22-19 the Australians were right in the game as half-time approached but Cruden’s penalty well into added time stretched the lead out to six points.
The first score of the second half was always going to be key and it was Leali’ifano who made no mistake with a penalty from right in front to close the gap to only three points again.
But once again the All Blacks responded and the two Smiths, Aaron and Conrad, combined to great effect to set up the centre for the fourth try of the game for Kiwis.
And after that McKenzie’s side appeared to deflate while the Kiwis grew in strength as Ben Smith notched his second after a sweeping move from left to right.
Cruden added another penalty after the hour mark before making way for Beauden Barrett who added a touchline conversion after Ben Smith had notched his hat-trick in the 75th minute, scooping up a loose ball before racing clear to become the first Kiwi since Doug Howlett in 2005 to score three tries against Australia.
To their credit Australia refused to buckle in the closing stages and added the final score of the game in the last minute when James O’Connor went over for his fourth try in his last four tests.