Dunedin, New Zealand – The All Blacks stayed on course to complete an unbeaten season when they toppled Australia 41-33 in a high-scoring seven-try spectacle in Dunedin on Saturday.
The reigning world champions were unruffled by the injury enforced late withdrawals of captain Richie McCaw and wing Cory Jane as they outscored the Wallabies four tries to three.
But the game was closer than the scoreline suggested with the All Blacks leading 30-19 at half-time and the Wallabies taking the second half 14-11.
The All Blacks wanted to repeat the high level of their performance two weeks ago when they beat the Springboks in Johannesburg to claim the Rugby Championship but they made too many mistakes.
The Australians started the game buoyed by their recent thrashing of Argentina and enjoyed a possession and territory advantage over the All Blacks in the first half.
But their confidence was eroded by the apparent ease with which the All Blacks turned half chances into scoring opportunities.
At this stage late season the All Blacks underestimated the Wallabies and were held to an 18-18 draw, and they were determined that would not happen again.
Although unable to dominate possession, their counter-attacking skills punished the Wallabies for numerous handling errors.
It was a rocky start for the All Blacks when Sam Cane, deputising for the injured McCaw, spilled the kick off back into Wallaby hands.
Israel Folau, a star of the Wallabies backline, took the Australians deep into All Blacks territory where Quade Cooper was gifted a simple penalty.
But that was to be the only time the Wallabies were ahead on the scoreboard for although they dominated possession in the first half they found the black defensive wall near impossible to penetrate.
As the All Blacks exploited the Wallabies defensive frailties left wing Julian Savea opened their account by scoring off an Israel Dagg pass when the speedsters found hooker Stephen Moore as the last line of defence.
A pin-point cross kick from Aaron Cruden into Savea's arms had the Wallabies in disarray and led to the All Blacks second try by Cane before Cruden scored the third when constant running by the All Blacks stretched the Wallabies to breaking point.
Adam Ashley-Cooper scored for the Wallabies just on half-time and with Quade Cooper landing the conversion, three penalties and a drop goal to three conversions and two penalties by Cruden, the All Blacks led 30-19 at the break.
Cruden opened a rapid scoring spree immediately after the resumption when he extended the lead to 33-19 with his fourth penalty.
It drew an immediate response from the Wallabies with a try to Matt Toomua from a 70-metre break after Tevita Kuridrani intercepted a Savea pass, to which the All Blacks replied with a Kieran Read try following a Charlie Faumuina turnover.
In the closing minutes Kuridrani scored the Wallabies third try.
To achieve their target of an unbeaten season, the All Blacks need to beat Japan, France, England and Ireland on their November tour. – Sapa-AFP