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Smith's hat trick helps All Blacks open Championship with win

The Canadian Press

8/17/2013 9:47:33 AM

SYDNEY, Australia -- New Zealand opened the Rugby Championship with a commanding 47-29 victory over Australia on Saturday, extending its dominance over its trans-Tasman rival and spoiling Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie's first game in charge.

Despite missing star flyhalf Dan Carter through injury, the All Blacks always looked in control against a mistake-prone Australia. Ben Smith scored a hat trick of tries, and Aaron Cruden, Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith also crossed in a bonus-point win for the world champions at Sydney's Olympic stadium.

Will Genia and James O'Connor scored tries for the hosts.

The All Blacks will retain the Bledisloe Cup -- a trophy contested annually between the Australasian rivals -- for the 11th straight year with a victory next week in Wellington.

"I am obviously very happy with the performance," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "It's not every day that you can come here and get 40 odd points. It's important to be a winning team, but you've got to keep humble and your feet on the floor because you've got to win again next week.

"The Bledisloe Cup, you have to win twice, so we haven't done anything yet. We've only done a small part of the job, but until we win two, we don't win it."

On this performance, McKenzie will need a vast improvement from his players if they are to have any chance of competing in the four-team Rugby Championship, which also features South Africa and Argentina.

"Every time you lose a game it's disappointing," McKenzie said. "We were level pegging there for some time in the game, but you have to respect possession.

"We didn't control the ball and they were able to play and do some of the things they're good at, and you pay a price for that."

Australia captain James Horwill said his team paid a heavy price for its mistakes.

"They're very good. They show it by the way they play, the way they capitalize on turnovers, and they understand the way they want to play because they have done it for a long time together," he said. "They are No. 1 in the world for a reason."

As was the case in the lost series to the British and Irish Lions in June and July, the Wallabies made its cause difficult with numerous individual errors, giving the visitors frequent scoring opportunities.

Stephen Moore's knock-on in the opening minutes gave the All Blacks an early opportunity to pressure the Wallabies goal-line defence. It was a chance they eagerly grasped, with Aaron Cruden getting on the outside of James O'Connor and flicking a one-handed pass for Ben Smith to cross unchallenged for a converted try after four minutes.

The Wallabies were given a penalty chance when Kieran Read barged into Rob Simmons off a high midfield kick. Center Christian Lealiifano made no mistake to narrow the deficit to 7-3.

Australia closed to within a point on 12 minutes through Lealiifano after referee Craig Joubert penalized New Zealand captain Richie McCaw for playing the ball while off his feet at the ruck.

Both teams traded penalties before a poor attempted clearance by Lealiifano was charged down by Cruden, with the flyhalf able to score with ease for a 17-12 lead.

The home team's task was made harder when Jesse Mogg's clearance kick failed to find touch in the 33rd minute. After several phases close to the Wallabies line, Aaron Smith fired a wide pass that eventually allowed the returning McCaw to dive over in the corner to make it 22-12.

"For Richie to come back after having the break and everyone doubted him. To get through the 70 minutes like he did just shows the character of the bloke once again, so hopefully there won't be any more doubters," Hansen said.

The Wallabies received a lifeline after the All Blacks fumbled the ball on its line-out. It was swooped on by Michael Hooper, who passed the ball for Will Genia to sprint 60 yards and beat Cruden, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg's attempted tackles to score under the posts. Lealiifano added the extras to narrow the score to 22-19.

In keeping with the see-saw nature of the first half, the Wallabies were caught offside in the final minute of the half, giving Cruden a simple penalty shot for the visitors to lead 25-19 at halftime.

The Wallabies started the second half brightly and Lealiifano again drew the Wallabies within three points with another penalty.

In the 51st minute, the Wallabies conspired to allow the All Blacks score its fourth try, and a bonus point, when Mogg dropped off Conrad Smith, allowing the centre to dash over under the posts for a 32-22 lead.

The hosts' misery was compounded when the All Blacks won possession on Australia's scrum feed in the 57th minute and quickly played the ball wide. Ben Smith found space to dive over in the corner to end the match as a contest.

Quade Cooper was brought on from the bench in the 61st minute, his first international appearance since September 2012. The Queensland Reds playmaker was greeted by a chorus of boos from the large All Black supporter contingent among the crowd of 68,765 people.

Cruden continued to impress, slotting a penalty in the 66th to bring up 40 points for the All Blacks.

"People have questioned Aaron Cruden at times at this level, and I think he showed tonight that he's a true international player of world-class ability and he led the team very well," Hansen said.

Ben Smith scored his deserved hat trick in the 71st, latching on to a spilt ball at a ruck to dash to the line.

Australia scored a late consolation try when O'Connor found space out wide in New Zealand's defensive line.

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Scores:

New Zealand 47 (Ben Smith 3, Aaron Cruden, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith tries; Cruden 3 conversions, 3 penalties, Beauden Barrett conversion) def. Australia 29 (Will Genia, James O'Connor tries; Christian Lealiifano 2 conversion, 5 penalties). Halftime: 25-19.