So that’s one score settled then. The All Blacks have gained some measure of revenge for their defeat at Dublin last November with a six-tries-to-three demolition of Ireland at Eden Park on Saturday night.
Once the All Blacks worked the rust from their systems and decided that this Test match business is a little different to Super Rugby, the tries flowed against Ireland in the 42-19 win and some of them were spectacular.
Ardie Savea take a bow – actually, make it a swan dive, the loose forward’s incredible second try of the night adding to what became a lengthy highlight reel.
After a Covid-disrupted build-up this week, there were plenty of mistakes from the home side on what was a clear and dry evening in front of a sell-out crowd of 48,000 but they had far more attacking firepower than the visitors, who, after starting both halves with commitment and passion, wilted in the face of the All Blacks’ ambition.
In that respect, the visitors were a little disappointing. The All Blacks were in no doubt about what they were about to face first up in this three-Test series, but after a reasonably bright start in in which halfback Jamison Gibson-Park and No.10 Jonathan Sexton pulled the strings superbly, there wasn’t much else in terms of attacking skill or inspiration.
New cap Leicester Fainga’anuku had an excellent start to his Test career with his power, with fellow newcomer Pita Gus Sowakula, a replacement, scoring in the second half. Jordie Barrett was an ever present on attack from the back and right wing Sevu Reece always alive to opportunity.
The home side’s midfield of Quinn Tupaea and Rieko Ioane was reasonably well contained, although the former scored an excellent first-half try, with Beauden Barrett influential and occasionally brilliant.
The All Black pack had an edge at scrum time and, with Scott Barrett at No.6, pressured the Irish lineout. They also comfortably accounted for the visitors’ driving maul.
It was the ruck which is perhaps the biggest potential area of improvement for the All Blacks next Saturday in Dunedin.
The Irish too often spoiled the ball by their utter commitment and occasional bending of the laws, although the men in green had two tries ruled out in the second half due to knock-ons and they certainly got no rub of the green when Sowakula scored his try in the final 10 minutes off the back of a scrum; referee Karl Dickson playing a perfect blocking role against Peter O’Mahony.
The All Blacks weathered the early Irish storm that resulted in a try by right wing Keith Earls and hit back with four converted tries in the first half through pieces of individual brilliance.
It helped significantly that the All Blacks found a way to lift the pace of the game that was more to their liking, and once they lifted the heart-rates of the men in green the home side were in their happy place; mixing sublime handling with kicking brilliance and an eye for the tryline.
Jordie Barrett’s try owed much to Tupaea’s sleight of hand pass to Fainga’anuku and the big wing’s size and speed and ability to draw two defenders.
Reece’s was a simple 80m run after an Irish mistake in the red zone. A double blow for the Irish was the sight of their skipper and linchpin Jonathan Sexton walking off injured.
The next two tries, however, were examples of intuitive brilliance. First it was Beauden Barrett’s perfectly-waited kick for Tupaea, who displayed patience to wait for the right time to pounce on the ball, and Savea’s spectacular five-pointer which owed everything to Aaron Smith’s pick up from the base of the ruck, a perfect chip, and an incredible backhand slap which was missed by both O’Mahony and James Lowe, but not Savea.
Garry Ringrose scored in the left corner to open the scoring in the second half but that was quickly cancelled out by Savea’s second, an incredible individual effort in which he took at outside line from near the midfield and just kept going.
After a scratchy start, the All Blacks’ unbeaten record at their fortress, going back to 1994, was never threatened, although there was some more untidy stuff at the end, with replacement prop Karl Tui’nukuafe sinbinned for a technical offence and Bundee Aki scoring a late consolation.
All Blacks 42 (Ardie Savea 2, Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea, Pita Gus Sowakula tries; Barrett 6 cons)
Ireland 19 (Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki tries; Joey Carbery 2 cons)