Rugby Championship: Ben Smith hat-trick powers All Blacks to victory
Last Updated: 17/08/13 4:06pm
New Zealand produced a dominant display to beat Australia 47-29 in Sydney to open their Rugby Championship campaign with panache.
Ben Smith's outstanding hat-trick combined with tries from Aaron Cruden, captain Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith saw New Zealand power their way to a 18-point victory.
A fiercely contested first half saw the All Blacks come out on top, but only narrowly after a spectacular Will Genia try kept the Wallabies in touching distance. However, the hosts had little answer in the second period as New Zealand raced through the gears to inflict defeat upon Ewen McKenzie in his first game as Wallabies head coach.
The All Blacks raced out of the blocks, pinning Australia in their own territory early on before Aaron Cruden neatly offloaded to Ben Smith on the right as the winger opened the scoring with less than five minutes played. Fly-half Cruden added the subsequent extras from the tee as the visitors asserted early authority on the tie.
The ever-reliable Christian Leali'ifano assumed kicking duties - after Jesse Mogg's early penalty sailed right - dissecting the uprights twice in as many minutes as the Wallabies reduced the difference to one point.
Cruden, making his 23rd All Blacks appearance in place of the injured Dan Carter, maintained his perfect kicking record with his first penalty of the night before Leali'ifano made no mistakes with his third and fourth attempts on goal as the Wallabies took the lead for the first time.
As the Wallabies defence faltered under relentless pressure, Chiefs playmaker Cruden remained centre stage as he sneaked over the line from close range before adding his conversion to regain the visitors' lead.
Steve Hansen's men appeared to taking control when All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw announced his return from a sabbatical with a try in the right hand corner after a fine display of handling from inside centre Conrad Smith.
However, a stunning solo exhibition from Genia, tearing through the All Blacks defence to race home the first Australian try of the match, combined with a Leali'ifano conversion brought the Wallabies within three. Cruden added his second penalty on the siren as the All Blacks entered the break with a 25-19 lead.
The Wallabies were back within three shortly after the interval when Leali'ifano maintained his faultless record from the tee after referee Craig Joubert penalised the All Blacks' indiscipline at the breakdown.
If New Zealand were lacking gusto in defence, the same could not be said in attack after a spellbinding move from Aaron Smith released Conrad Smith to touch down under the posts before Cruden's conversion extended the All Blacks' lead to 10.
The All Blacks' superiority began to shine midway through the second half as they continued to penetrate the Australian back line with Israel Dagg setting up Ben Smith for his second touchdown of the evening.
Highlanders winger Smith completed a perfect night's work with another display of individual brilliance leading him to the line to seal an unforgettable international hat-trick and victory for the All Blacks.
Australia found small consolation when winger James O'Connor weaved his way through the New Zealand defence on the siren to touch down before Leali'ifano's conversion reduced the final deficit to 18 points.
McKenzie's men must now win both remaining fixtures against the All Blacks - August 24 and October 19 - if they are to end Australia's 11-year wait to get their hands on the Bledisloe Cup.