The All Blacks refused to be bullied two weeks in a row, meeting fire with fire and scorching the Australian forwards, as Caleb Clarke announced his arrival with a roar.
After being outmuscled and pushed around by the Wallabies pack in last week’s draw in Wellington, the All Blacks were under pressure to respond in yesterday evening’s second Bledisloe Cup test in Auckland.
Respond they did, largely dominating the physical battle and set piece to score four tries to one, and extend the Wallabies 34 year losing streak at Eden Park.
The performance much to the delight of captain and openside Sam Cane.
“Really proud of the result obviously. Our coaches and our leaders were exceptional this week, right from the final whistle of last week right up until the end of this game. A lot of boys stepped up tonight and responded.”
Cane scored a try and was immense with the ball in hand and on defence – sating the All Blacks coach Ian Foster’s desire to make a statement after a tepid performance in Wellington.
“We’ve set a marker down of where we need to be as a team in terms of the mental side of the game, in terms of the mental side of the game and the approach to the physicality and the speed of it. So, really pleased with that.”
The game also marked the emergence of New Zealand rugby’s newest star.
While Cane was captain fantastic and many others stood out, none shone as much as the 21-year-old wing Clarke, who left a string of Wallabies defenders in his wake as he broke tackles at will.
One barnstorming kick return set up Ardie Savea for the hosts third try, as Clarke’s father and former All Black, Eroni Clarke, watched on with a beaming smile.
Caleb didn’t know exactly where his Dad was, but he was bursting with pride to have his aiga in the crowd.
“I just saw his face up on the screen like half the time eh haha. It was quite funny because I didn’t know where he was sitting. The more special thing was having my nana there. She’s been through a lot with her husband passing away and all of us having our grandfather passing away. So, we got to share a special moment with her and I had to wipe away a few tears.”
Clarke said he could feel his grandfather’s presence at the All Blacks Eden Park fortress.
“Yep, I definitely could. Especially when I saw my Nana, that’s when the water works started. I just wanted to play for him and it was just awesome.”
As a hat tip to Clarke’s awesome performance, the wing was given a standing ovation when he left the field.
“I think I got so caught up in the moment that I wanted to jog and clap everyone else as well but then I started to cramping, so I had to walk, haha. It was a lot of fun out there and it was real cool putting on the special jersey on home soil in the place I grew up. I’m just real happy.”
Clarke putting the rugby world on notice with his powerful display, even drawing admiration from Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.
“Some of our kicking options weren’t great and with Caleb Clarke bringing the ball back, he was a real handful tonight.”
Rennie clearly disappointed after his side blew a chance to and snap their Eden Park drought, with the Wallabies missing 40 tackles in the 20 point loss.
“Last week we tackled really well and we made minimal mistakes. This time we turned the ball over a lot and missed too many tackles. Our individual tackling was poor and we got put under the heat from it. You just can’t gift the All Blacks that much ball, they’ve got too many athletes that can hurt you.”
The result hurting the Wallabies hopes of taking the Bledisloe Cup off the All Blacks, who now only need to win one of the remaining two tests in Australia to retain the trophy.