Caleb Clarke starred for the All Blacks on his run-on debut.
With his beaming father watching in the Eden Park stands, All Blacks rookie Caleb Clarke answered the call in his first test start to inspire a much-needed dose of Bledisloe redemption.
It was no secret that Ian Foster’s All Blacks needed to provide much more in the way of physicality and intensity than they had managed in last week’s disappointing 16-16 draw against these much-improved Wallabies, under their new Kiwi coach Dave Rennie.
They got it in Sunday’s rematch at Eden Park (in front of an all-but sellout of 46,049) from a number of quarters, but none more emphatically than this 21-year-old powerhouse Clarke, who thrived in his first start on the left wing on his beloved home ground to inspire a 27-7 victory that restores the balance of trans-Tasman power somewhat.
Look out: All Blacks blockbuster Caleb Clarke leaves Wallabies defenders grasping at air.
It will assuredly not be his last start in that jersey he treasures so much, on the basis of the 67 captivating minutes he provided. When he was eventually substituted late in the piece, the crowd rose to acknowledge the game-changing efforts of the youngster, his proud ex-All Black dad Eroni among them.
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Clarke, who packs a good chunk of his 107kg round a solid girth, was magnificent on the carry throughout and featured prominently in the first two of the All Blacks’ three tries in the third quarter that bust this contest open. He finished with a team-high 123 running metres on eight carries, including a remarkable 10 tackle-busts.
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Proud father Eroni Clarke with All Blacks star Caleb Clarke after his Bledisloe Cup blinder.
It was a vastly improved All Blacks effort all-round as they answered the call resoundingly in the wake of their rather flat effort last week.
Sam Cane again led them splendidly with a powerhouse display, carrying strongly, tearing into the tackle and inspiring his forwards to stamp themselves on this contest.
That they did. Ardie Savea was much, much better this week, with a good try as reward, Dane Coles was excellent on the starting role and Patrick Tuipulotu rumbled into something much more resembling his form of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
The All Blacks backs were also streets ahead of Wellington, with so much more ball to work with. Beauden Barrett provided a real spark at the back, with 101 running metres, Anton Lienert-Brown showed his class, Jordie Barrett did his bit over on the right wing and Richie Mo’unga looked much more settled this time round.
The Wallabies brought plenty to the contest, but lost their shape a little after halftime and have some regrouping to do ahead of the next two Bledisloes on the other side of the ditch.
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Captain Sam Cane gallops in to score for the All Blacks.
For now, Foster goes one up on his rival Rennie because he inspired a response and dose of Bledisloe redemption that was all but compulsory for the All Blacks this week.
A fast-paced and frenetic first 40 ended with a try apiece and the All Blacks ahead 10-7. This was better than last week, in near perfect conditions, but those Australians were not laying down for anyone.
The New Zealanders took a while to settle with the Wallabies pinning them in their territory early, but then Beauden Barrett made the first of a handful of first-half breaks (he led the home side with 93 running metres through the first 40) and with the big crowd roaring, Foster’s men entered the contest.
Barrett broke again, then Peter Umaga-Jensen came in to chalk up a test debut while Anton Lienert-Brown went to the blood bin and Mo’unga had the New Zealanders on the board with a penalty.
Then, in the 23rd minute, the All Blacks had the opening try on the back of a breakout from Mo’unga, Umaga-Jensen and Coles, with Barrett’s nicely weighted chip kick forcing a 5m scrum.
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You ripper! Ardie Savea, Beauden Barrett and Shannon Frizell celebrate another All Blacks try at Eden Park.
From there a charging Jack Goodhue, already making more impact than seven days earlier, went close on the carry and from quick ball Aaron Smith was over for his second try in as many weeks.
The Wallabies responded a half-dozen minutes later when wing Marika Koroibete provided the finishing touches to a surging move sparked by Ned Hanigan and Taniela Tupou to close it to three points at the break.
Both sides would have been happy enough with their first-half efforts, but it was the All Blacks, inspired by the rampaging Clarke, who came out and took this contest by the scruff of the neck with three tries in the opening quarter of an hour taking them to that 27-7 advantage.
Jordie Barrett had the first, just a couple of minutes in, when Coles made the early bust, Clarke featured twice on the carry and good hands put the wing over on the right. Savea added a ripper just two minutes later when Clarke simply would not be denied off the kick receipt with a magnificent 45-metre run that left a handful of Wallabies in his wake and gave his loose forward the space to wheel out of a tackle and cross.
The Wallabies then went close twice round the 50-minute mark with Koroibete held up ingoal by some great defensive work from Mo’unga and Lienert-Brown and Brandon Paenga-Amosa pinged for a double-movement off the lineout drive.
All Blacks skipper Cane left them regretting that deeply when he danced clear in the 54th minute for a seven-pointer that made it 27-7 –Tuipulotu’s classy offload the key play in the leadup.
That’s how it stayed till the end, with the All Blacks assuredly with one steely mitt back on that prized trophy.
All Blacks 27 (Aaron Smith, Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane tries; Richie Mo’unga pen, 2 con), Wallabies 7 (Marika Koroibete tries: James O’Connor con). Ht: 10-7.