SYDNEY (Reuters) - The All Blacks were determined to draw a “line in the sand” against the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship opener after being impressed by their forwards during the June series against Ireland, captain Kieran Read said.
The All Blacks’ pack were decisive in the 38-13 rout at Sydney’s Olympic stadium on Saturday, dominating the set pieces and winning a slew of line-outs from the Wallabies’ throw.
Australia lost a hard-fought June series 2-1 to Ireland but their pack emerged with reputation enhanced after strong performances against the Six Nations champions.
“We put a lot of emphasis on (set piece),” Read, who made a strong return after a long lay-off from back surgery, said pitch-side.
“We knew the Wallabies had had a great series against Ireland up front so we wanted to really come at them and I, guess, put a bit of a mark in the sand there.
“We went pretty well so we’ll have to build on that again next week.”
Undefeated in the 2016 and 2017 tournaments, the All Blacks claimed their 13th Rugby Championship win in succession.
They also subjected the Wallabies to a third successive mauling in the tournament’s Sydney opener, having hammered them 42-8 in 2016 and 54-34 last year.
Steve Hansen’s side notched a record first half points tally against the Wallabies in the corresponding fixture last year, and at the same venue on Saturday, scored a record second half total against them.
Trailing 6-5 at halftime, the All Blacks ran over five tries after the break in a ruthless display of running rugby to show they remain the benchmark a year out from their World Cup title defence.
The only fly in the ointment was a head-knock to inside centre Ryan Crotty, who was forced from the field in the first half after clashing with new midfield partner Jack Goodhue.
Compared to their first half blitz last year, Hansen said the All Blacks had produced a “different kind of explosion” to humble their trans-Tasman opponents again.
“We wanted to attack the set piece because that’s where the game’s won and lost,” he said.
“If you can take away the supply of ball then it makes it difficult and Australia really like to play off their line-out.
“We came with a plan and tonight it worked for us.”
Hansen paid tribute to “unsung hero” Sam Whitelock, the veteran lock celebrating his 100th test in dependable style.
“He’s been a wonderful, wonderful player for the All Blacks for a long time and to play one test for your country is an amazing thing but to be able to play 100 you’re a pretty special player,” said Hansen.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Pritha Sarkar