NZ and Aus down northern contenders, will SA match up?
In the New Zealand match against Ireland powerful young winger Julian Savea—often compared with rugby great Jonah Lomu—scored three blockbuster tries as the All Blacks destroyed Ireland with a 42-10 victory at Eden Park on Saturday.
The runaway win shattered any illusions Ireland had of pulling off a historic first win over the All Blacks in the 107-year history of internationals between the two countries.
In their first outing since winning the World Cup last October, and with a new head coach in Steve Hansen, the All Blacks ran in five tries to one.
Savea (21) a former International Rugby Board (IRB) junior player of the year, is 1.92 metres and 103 kilograms, and with his strength and speed he proved a constant threat down the left wing during what was his first test appearance.
He was only denied two more tries by desperate defence from Ireland fullback Rob Kearney.
All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith also produced an outstanding debut with his rapid service keeping the backline moving, and he received a standing ovation when he was substituted with 25-minutes remaining.
Hansen, who described Smith as “simply outstanding”, said there was still considerable room for improvement.
“There were a couple of tries we blew,” he said.
“We started the week out with one purpose and that was to have a performance we could be proud of and we’ve got to be proud of what we did under the circumstances of first time coming together. But, clearly there’s still a lot we can work on.”
<strong>Hard luck of the Irish</strong>
Ireland had opportunities, particularly in the first half when Jamie Heaslip, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo all went close, only to be tipped up in finger-tip defensive plays by Israel Dagg and Richie McCaw.
Ireland’s only try came from a long kick downfield when winger Fergus McFadden outsprinted McCaw in a 50-metre race for the ball.
All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter, who finished with a match haul of 17-points, started the scoring early with a third minute penalty, which was matched immediately by Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton.
With the All Blacks slow to find their cohesion, Ireland spent long periods on attack in the first 15-minutes but started to lose their impetus when Carter landed two penalties in quick succession from about 50 metres out.
Ireland held out a series of All Blacks pick and goes for about five minutes before Sonny Bill Williams and Carter combined to send Savea away for his first try.
His second try, just before half-time, came from a smart blindside move orchestrated by Smith.
Israel Dagg set up Savea’s third try just after the break to put the All Blacks out to a 30-3 lead before McFadden found the line for Ireland.
The All Blacks responded immediately, working their way up to the Irish line where Kieran Read took the short side from a scrum near the posts and flicked the ball to an unmarked Adam Thomson.
As the rain came down in the dying minutes of the game, replacement back Aaron Cruden opened a gap for Conrad Smith to score the final try and for the All Blacks to extend their winning run at Eden Park to 28 Tests, dating back to 1994.
They also maintained their 107-year record of never losing to Ireland and showed a domination that did not augur well for the northern hemisphere side in the remaining two Tests.
The second Test is in Christchurch next Saturday and the final Test is in Hamilton a week later.
<strong>Wallabies whack Wales</strong>
The Wallabies bounced back from their shock defeat to Scotland to down Six Nations champions Wales 27-19 in the first of three tests in Brisbane on Saturday.
Australia outscored the Welsh three tries to one and take a series lead going into next week’s second Test in Melbourne.
Inspired by halves Will Genia and Berrick Barnes, the Wallabies were a far different proposition than their stuttering 9-6 loss to Six Nations wooden-spooners Scotland in stormy Newcastle last Tuesday.
Australia dominated the first half and led 10-3 at halftime, stretched their lead to 20-6 early in the second term before Wales fought back to trail 20-19 with 17 minutes left.
But the home side had more left in the tank and finished off with a converted try by centre Pat McCabe in the 67th minute to see off the Welsh threat.
The defeat meant Wales have yet to win in nine Tests in Australia since their only win in Sydney in 1969.
“It was important that we put the Scotland loss behind us pretty quickly and it was important to start the series well with some more tough games to come,” Wallabies’ skipper David Pocock said.
<strong>Point to prove</strong>
The Welsh struggled to match Australia’s first half intensity and got more into the match in the second half as both teams used their replacements.
“The game was played at a great pace and intensity and we struggled to keep up in the first half,” Wales captain Sam Warburton said.
“We have plenty to work on ahead of next week and the best team won today.”
The Wallabies ripped into the rucks from the outset to deliver Genia and Barnes quick ball and put the Australian attack on the front foot.
Barnes kicked Australia into the lead with a ninth-minute penalty before Welsh winger Alex Cuthbert saved a certain try.
Cuthbert cut down centre Rob Horne with winger Digby Ioane unmarked outside him before the home side increased their lead.
Blindside flanker Scott Higginbotham powered over in the 16th-minute for his first Test try after Ioane jolted the ball clear from Rhys Priestland off a high kick.
Barnes’s conversion pushed the Wallabies out to a 10-0 lead and could have stretched their advantage after hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau sent man-of-the-match Genia racing clear only for the scrum-half’s kick ahead to go out on the full.
Halfpenny kicked Wales’s first points with a 23rd-minute penalty, but the Six Nations champions suffered a blow when winger George North was forced off after 29 minutes with a thigh injury to be replaced by James Hook.
Barnes hit the post with a penalty attempt minutes later as the Wallabies finished the half on top.
The influential Genia gave the Wallabies a flying start to the second half when he darted through an opening and stepped past fullback Hook to score beneath the crossbar in the opening minutes for a 17-3 advantage.
Halfpenny kicked his second penalty to reduce the gap to 11-points before Barnes slotted over a drop goal for 20-6.
Wales brought on three fresh forwards and Halfpenny’s third penalty was followed by a converted try to Cuthbert to trail 20-16.
Halfpenny landed another penalty to whittle Australia’s lead to one point with 17-minutes remaining.
But the Wallabies hit back when Genia sent Pat McCabe racing over at the angle for Barnes to kick the home side to a 27-19 lead with 13 minutes left and seal the contest.—Sapa.