SYDNEY, Australia -- The story followed a different script in 2018 but in the end it was the same brutally familiar Sydney Bledisloe result.
The All Blacks overcame a gutsy first-half defensive display from the Wallabies to roll to yet another dominant victory at ANZ Stadium on Saturday, all but securing the Bledisloe Cup for another season; short of some sort of Australian miracle at Eden Park.
Spearheaded by their two most recent World Rugby Player of the Year winners in Brodie Retallick and Beauden Barrett, the All Blacks simply went up a gear after the break and blew the Wallabies off the paddock. The world champions ran in five second-half tries to rocket to a 38-13 victory in front of 66,318 fans and heap more pain on Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Apparently "under pressure" following Richie Mo'unga's breathtaking Super Rugby form, Barrett answered his critics emphatically despite the fact he moved between fullback and fly-half following replacement Damian McKenzie introduction early in the second half. The two-time reigning Player of the Year scored one try with superb soccer skills and laid on another with a perfectly directed left-foot kick in helping Waisake Naholo to a try-scoring double.
Retallick, meanwhile, looked like a man who'd missed playing international rugby. The veteran All Blacks lock had not played a Test since last year's Rugby Championship, through injury and personal reasons, but he announced his return in magnificent fashion.
Named man of the match, the highlight of Retallick's performance came just after the hour mark when he engulfed Will Genia in a tackle to win a turnover. After the ball had shifted to the far touchline and back, Retallick found himself in a two-on-one situation where he dummied to Naholo and set off on a 40-metre saunter to the line. That no Wallabies were to be seen within 30 metres was a sign their first-half defensive effort had taken its toll.
"I think the biggest compliment you can give Brodie is that he plays with another guy who's a really special player in Sam Whitelock," Hansen said. "To play 100 Test matches for your country, you've got to be special, a generation-type player. There's only eight people [All Blacks] now that have done that yet game after game people talk about Brodie, and he casts that shadow of Sammy a bit. I think that's not a reflection on how good Sammy is, it's actually a reflection on how good Guzzler [Retallick] is.
"He's [Retallick] got everything, hasn't he? He's got a bit of mongrel, he's got set-piece, he can carry the ball; a great defender. So they make a great combination and they push each other around the park and around the training park as well. So I can't speak highly enough of both of them."
But it was Aaron Smith's 40th-minute strike that should have sounded the warning. One missed tackle from Lukhan Tui, who at times looked cumbersome in the No.6 jersey, was all it took for Ben Smith to skip free and, with the help of Naholo and Read, put the halfback in.
Forty minutes later, the visitors had six tries in the bank and the Wallabies had missed a whopping 40 tackles.
"I don't know the number [of missed tackles] but I thought we defended excellently in the first half and we need to keep doing that." Cheika said. "It's pretty simple. We've got to keep doing it for the whole time, whether we have the ball or whether we've given the ball away at lineouts or not; that's something we've got to react to, and you've got to keep delivering that."
While Australia had their moments in attack, they pushed far too many passes. Replacement hooker Tolu Latu was responsible for two of those, but he certainly wasn't alone. Elsewhere, the hosts endured a disastrous night at set-piece, conceding six scrum penalties and seven lineouts on their own throw. Those stats were compounded by news that Israel Folau was spotted on crutches post game.
Just what Cheika does at hooker ahead of next week will be closely viewed, for while Tatafu Polota-Nau did some good things in the loose, his lineout throwing has long been a concern; not that things got any better in that department following Latu's introduction either.
As for the scrum, Cheika will surely have to consider Taniela Tupou providing the boom Reds prop is able to recover from the hamstring injury that made him a game-day withdrawal on Saturday. The Wallabies were also without regular loosehead Scott Sio.
The Wallabies coach will have been largely pleased with his side's first half, but he has a world of headaches to contend with from the second 40. His ability to get a response from the Wallabies players after Saturday night's second-half horrors will be closely scrutinised.
Hansen, meanwhile, now has even more to smile about than just his laughing-fit inducing claim from last week that the Wallabies would start Bledisloe I as favourites. New Zealand may not have played with the first-half crispness of their two most recent previous Sydney performances, but they were still able to wear down the Wallabies and strike with ruthless precision.
The fact they did that after losing Ryan Crotty to a nasty head knock early in the first half, followed by Rieko Ioane not long after the resumption, is a testament to the depth the All Blacks coach has fostered over the past few years. Rookie Jack Goodhue, who picked up a try in his second Test, looked completely comfortable on the pitch.
And so the procession at Eden Park, where the Wallabies have not won since 1986, awaits. Wallabies fans have long been accustomed to the hell that transpires in the Auckland graveyard, and the Sydney Bledisloe opener has started to invoke similar feelings of nausea.
The good news for those in green and gold, then? That they at least got to feel like they were part of a contest for 40 minutes on Saturday night ... and next year's sole Australian trans-Tasman contest will be played in Perth.