New Zealand's Caleb Clarke makes a break during the Bledisloe Cup rugby union match between New Zealand and Australia. AFP/Michael Bradley
AUCKLAND - Wing Caleb Clarke enjoyed a storming first Test start as an aggressive All Blacks downed Australia 27-7 with a rollicking second half in Auckland on Sunday to answer their critics after last week's draw.
After the dramatic Bledisloe Cup series opener ended 16-16, the All Blacks led 10-7 at half-time and scored three quick tries after the restart as they piled on 17 unanswered points in the second period.
Bruising wing Clarke, who had the crowd on the edge of their seats every time he touched the ball, evoked memories of Jonah Lomu as the All Blacks played with a renewed physical presence and cohesion.
It was the seventh time in the past 13 years that the three-times world champions have started the annual Bledisloe Cup series with a loss or a draw and immediately bounced back.
"It was tough, but we're so damn happy," said All Blacks captain Sam Cane. "There was a lot of pressure this week for a relatively new squad in a lot of ways and I'm really proud of the way we stuck to our plan.
"We worked really, really hard and in the end we managed to break them."
The four-tries-to-one victory extended the All Blacks' impressive record at Eden Park, where they have not lost in 44 Tests since 1994 and where Australia have not won since 1986.
They now need to win only one of the two remaining games in the Bledisloe series, which will be played in Australia as part of the upcoming Tri-Nations tournament, to retain the trophy they have held since 2003.
"They were better this week, they raised the bar and got ahead of us," said Australia captain Michael Hooper.
"We'll go back home now, getting a couple of days off and regroup. You know, we're building. A hit to the confidence a bit today, but we'll go again."
The game was only the second rugby Test worldwide since March, and was played in front of packed stands at Eden Park after New Zealand successfully contained its coronavirus outbreak.