With Australia and New Zealand already locked-in to face-off in next weekend’s Pacific Championship final, last night’s international between the fierce rivals risked being little more than the lighting of a fizzing fuse for the “Big Bang” to follow. But when New Zealand’s Black Ferns upset the Jillaroos, snapping their 15-game winning streak in the curtain-raiser, all signs pointed to another trans-Tasman classic.
Ultimately, Australia ran out 36-18 winners before a crowd of 20,584 at Melbourne’s AAMI Park and will enter the final hot favourites over their arch-rivals. Despite their scary 50-0 shutout of Samoa last week, New Zealand were totally outgunned as they sought to avenge last year’s 16-14 loss to the Kangaroos in the World Cup semi-final.
Australia enjoy Pacific Test wins as Kangaroos blow away Samoa and Jillaroos edge NZRead more
As Australia’s and New Zealand’s cricketers duelled at the foot of the Himalayas in Dharamshala, there was heightened intensity here too. The dual-language New Zealand anthems mutated into a twin-prong haka, the traditional Māori war dance getting an unfamiliar final act when the Kiwis advanced past the halfway to stand eyeball to eyeball with their opposition. It was a threat blunted somewhat by Nicho Hynes’ goofy laughter and Cameron Murray out-dead-eying Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
Then, in a sign of things to come, New Zealand’s passion fizzled into farce as Jamayne Isaako’s kickoff went out on the full. Daly Cherry Evans, at 34-years and eight months the oldest halfback in Kangaroos history, reefed it another 30 metres downfield to put Australia on the attack from the get-go. The Kiwis survived that attacking charge but nervous errors and swirling winds conspired to make a mess of their early minutes.
Unbeaten from his seven starts as captain, James Tedesco drew first blood for the home side when, eight minutes in, he put the ball on the toe and Valentine Holmes, back into the centres after his suspension for a white powder scandal, sprinted and swooped to regather for the first try of the game and his 20th four-pointer in 20 Tests. Holmes then added the extras, curling the kick inside the right post, to make it 6-0.
Kangaroos hooker Harry Grant was named Man of the Match in the 36-18 victory over New Zealand Kiwis at AAMI Park. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images
The Kiwis hit back 10 minutes later when Jahrome Hughes towed through for Briton Nikora to cross under the posts untouched. But Australia remained ascendent and the level scores didn’t last long as Dylan Edwards’ spectacular leap found Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow who shrugged off two tacklers to hook it back for Lindsay Collins to score.
Australia extended the lead to 18-6 in the 30th minute when a sublime dummy-half long ball from Harry Grant to Collins sent the big Rooster over for a rare double. But again New Zealand counter-punched, a clunky Hughes kick sowing confusion in the Kangaroos, leaving Ronaldo Mulitalo to pluck it from the air and make it 18-12.
Having missed training all week with a mystery illness, Cameron Munster looked rusty, shanking several kicks and overplaying his hand. But the Storm maverick soon sparked a flurry of fast hands that found Tabuai-Fidow who floated around Joseph Manu to gift fullback Dylan Edwards his first try in green and gold.
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Lindsay Collins celebrates scoring a second try in the Pacific Championship match against New Zealand at AAMI Park. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images
With Australia beaten just twice in their last 24 Tests, the 12-point margin meant Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga could experiment with his debutantes. Having been dropped by NSW after a 12-minute State of Origin debut in Game One, Nicho Hynes was so desperate to redeem himself at representative level, the Sharks playmaker happily donned shoulder pads to run out and replace Isaah Yeo in the forward pack.
Both New Zealand’s tries had come from kicks and the Kiwis had lost shape as every attempted line-break was shutdown. But after another Holmes penalty took the margin beyond two converted tries, Australia relaxed and a soft penalty in the 70th minute allowed Fa’amanu Brown to burrow over and make it 26-18.
But Ben Hunt did some burrowing of his own a few minutes later to restore the 14-point buffer and Kangaroos captain-in-waiting Cameron Murray closed it out, surging onto a deft short ball from Hynes to sprint away and match fellow-Rabbitoh Ron Coote’s Test match record of six consecutive tries in six international Tests.