Friendly reunion it was not, but New Zealand fans relished seeing Richie McCaw back in black (Image | AP)

Friendly reunion it was not, but New Zealand fans relished seeing Richie McCaw back in black (Image | AP)

The Rugby Championship began this weekend in Sydney with an emphatic 47-29 victory for New Zealand, underlining once again their dominance since the Rugby World Cup of 2011.

The Kiwis welcomed back talismanic captain Richie McCaw and although he was received in typically robust style by the Australian forward pack, his ability in the rucks and in the loose was immense.

His return from a sabbatical from rugby following the 2012 autumn international loss against England galvanised the team to victory in the first Bledisloe Cup Test of 2013.

The performances of Aaron Cruden, Stephen Luatua, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith in particular were impressive, with Cruden scoring a 20 point haul, Luatua replacing the injured Liam Messam with a robust display and Ben Smith notching a hat-trick.

Cruden’s execution of the Kiwi game plan was particularly striking as he played due to the calf injury suffered by Daniel Carter. However, a continued run in the side and his brilliant form in Super Rugby have made Cruden a genuine contender for the starting spot when Carter returns.

New Zealand did not have to wait long for the first try, Ben Smith touching down in the corner after just three minutes following a sublime pass from Cruden. The two sides then traded penalties, with Christian Lealiifano putting Australia ahead 12-10 until Cruden dotted down. McCaw then capped his return with a try in the right hand corner. Both tries were converted as the Kiwis began to display their ruthless streak.

Australian scrum-half Will Genia then scored a 65-metre breakaway try after a mistake at the line-out by the All Blacks, but another New Zealand penalty maintained the gap at 25-19.

Despite the fact they were trailing at the break, the Wallabies had showcased many positives, in particular the more attacking, positive intent as opposed to the conservatism of the Robbie Deans era.

The world champions then began to run away with the game after the hour mark with both Conrad and Ben Smith scoring tries, born in equal part from simple execution of the All Blacks’ plans and mistakes by the home side. The Wallabies touched down through James O’Connor late on but by that point the game was well and truly beyond them.

The match finished as New Zealand’s third highest victory over their Trans-Tasman rivals and also was their 100th victory over the men in gold. This is the first time a nation has beaten another country 100 times but the world champions do not yet hold the record for the most individual wins, which is held by France.

Coach Ewen McKenzie will have taken positives from the Australian performance, but there remains more to be done (Image | Sky)

Coach Ewen McKenzie will have taken positives from the Australian performance, but there remains more to be done (Image | Sky)

Ewan McKenzie, in his first match as Australia’s new head coach, would have hoped to begin his tenure with a victory that may have set up the chance to win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in 11 years.

Unfortunately, the former Reds coach could not convert his domestic form into international success on his debut. The Wallabies were sloppy, while the intensity that the All Blacks had shown during the last series against the French was converted mostly into this match, apart from some obvious rustiness. That said, the Aussies do have some reasons for optimism as the change from the Robbie Deans era has led to some more attacking tendencies, which if the defence can be tightened, could lead to a much more effective unit.

The new scrum rules also went smoothly with the main issue being with the feed from the scrumhalves, both being penalised repeatedly.

Overall the clinical nature of the All Blacks was too much for the Wallabies. The Aussies new more direct style of rugby endeared them to their fans for the first half but once the game became more broken up, the Kiwis pounced and used their counter-attacking prowess to run in six tries.

However, injuries to Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Luke Romano, provided problems for the 2011 World Champions but even taken this into consideration the visitors will hope to continue their unbeaten run in the Rugby Championship in Wellington next week.

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