All Blacks head coach Ian Foster says he is “delighted” at the performance of his side, who overcame several Covid disruptions during the week to thrash Ireland 42-19 at Eden Park on Saturday night.
The comprehensive victory put the All Blacks one up in the three-Test series, defended an unbeaten record at Eden Park that still stretches back to 1994, and gained some measure of revenge for Ireland's convincing win in Dublin last November.
It was achieved after Foster and assistant coach John Plumtree came out of isolation on the morning of the Test, with defence coach Scott McLeod and scrum coach not available after testing positive. Players Will Jordan, Jack Goodhue and David Havili were also ruled out due to Covid.
Foster paid credit to his senior players for leading the preparation during the week and they had to weather an early Irish storm before replying with four tries in the first half and a 28-5 halftime lead to effectively shut out the visitors.
“Overall, I’m delighted,” Foster said.
“Sam and the other leaders this week were phenomenal. They took a big load – [assistant coach] Brad [Mooar] did an awesome job on the ground… it was a very unique week. To be involved in coaching the All Blacks from Zoom at home and still be married at the end of the week – it’s pretty satisfying.”
Ireland had the better of the first quarter, with wing Keith Earls’ try a good reward for their pressure and possession, but the All Blacks struck back via Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Ardie Savea and Quinn Tupaea.
Savea’s second try, a spectacular individual effort, plus one for debutant Pita Gus Sowakula, sealed it, although the All Blacks had to withstand a lot of pressure from an Irish team who scored two of their own and should have got more but for some scrambling defence.
“I thought we defended our goal-line pretty well – even up to the 85th minute,” skipper Sam Cane said. “Our set piece was a little bit of a mixed bag. I thought we had a little bit of scrum dominance at times but still it’s not quite where we want it to be. It’s a good start.”
Speaking about a defensive effort that denied the Irish on their own try-line time and again, he said: “Even though we knew the game was won… it reflects the boys’ pride and attitude and what it means to pull on an All Blacks jersey at home and defend our line like that. We held them up numerous times. We have to sort out our discipline so we’re not down there as much but it was good to see.
“We always thought the first 20 minutes of the Test would be pretty brutal. It would come down to the collisions, our decisions and the kicking game. I thought we started to get a roll on in that second 20. The game started flowing for us, we started creating opportunities. The boys were breathing pretty heavily at the back end of the second half. That’s when we back ourselves to work hard and make the most of every opportunity we can.”
For Ireland, skipper and No.10 Jonathan Sexton’s head injury in the first half left them short of direction and ideas on attack after a bright start, but, while he did not return after failing a head injury assessment, head coach Andy Farrell believes Sexton is still a chance for the second Test in Dunedin next Saturday.
Farrell was unhappy with English referee Karl Dickson’s rulings at the breakdown and said he would query the decisions “through the usual channels”.
Asked about the All Blacks, Farrell said: “They still hit you on the break pretty effectively. They’re still pretty good on the counter-attack. They’re still trying to be very aggressive at the breakdown… we need some answers as far as that’s concerned so we can put our own stuff right. There were a few things going on there that we need to get clarified.
“We’re gutted to lose. You don’t get many opportunities to break a record, and it’s an outstanding record. You can see why they hold that here. The players know what they did well and they know how the game flowed and the things we need to fix and to stay in the series next week.”
Foster said he was pleased with the performances of his debutants – wing Leicester Fainga’anuku and replacement loose forward Pita Gus Sowakula, the latter scoring off the back of an attacking scrum.
“It’s not easy when you go on and drop the first pass,” Foster said of Sowakula. “It would have been easy to drop his head. He settled down and won a good lineout and scored a good try off the scrum.”