AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Jun 24 – Rieko Ioane scored two second-half tries as the world champion All Blacks stamped their authority with a 30-15 victory in the first Test against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday.
Both tries were off the back of demolition work by a powerful New Zealand pack. The All Blacks outscored the Lions three tries to two to maintain their 24-year unbeaten record at Eden Park.
After a fevered build-up to the game, the All Blacks made their mark early on with a penalty and Codie Taylor’s converted try to lead 10-0, and they were ahead 13-8 at half-time.
But they were struggling to build on that lead in the second half before Ioane, selected ahead of prolific try-scorer Julian Savea, exploded into action.
“It was a bloody tough Test match. Certainly that first half had everything — both teams throwing the ball around, two bloody good sides,” said All Blacks captain Kieran Read.
“That’s one (win),” he added. “We’ll go back to the drawing board on Monday. Nothing’s been earned yet so we will work harder next week.”
The Lions scored a running try for the ages through Sean O’Brien in the first half, but captain Peter O’Mahony was left to rue a number of missed chances.
“We’ve plenty to play for, we’ve got to regroup now and move on to Wellington,” O’Mahony said.
“We were playing some good rugby and it paid off, and (O’Brien’s) was a great try but I think we left a couple out there,” he added.
“I think we’ve got to be harder on ourselves to finish off opportunities we create.”
– Tactical twist –
Twelve years since the Lions were ‘blackwashed’ 3-0 on their last visit to New Zealand, the game turned on a brutal scrum by the All Blacks.
It led to Ioane’s first try and the second came when the All Blacks forwards secured turnover ball.
TJ Perenara, taking a leaf from the playbook of his Lions opposite scrum-half Conor Murray, put in a box kick which Ioane gathered and raced away to score.
As expected, the Test was a collision of two distinct styles — enterprising running and audacious offloads, against box kicks and close-quarter charges — but with a twist.
The All Blacks countered the renowned Lions’ defensive line speed by employing the visitors’ tactics of direct crash-and-bash up the middle.
Murray’s clever box kicks, which caused the All Blacks much discomfort in the opening 30 minutes, faded as the Lions pack started to wilt.
The convincing victory kept alive the All Blacks’ phenomenal record, with 47 victories in a row on home soil since 2009 and no defeats at Eden Park since 1994.
But it was a brutal, bloody encounter. The All Blacks lost both fullback Ben Smith (concussion) and outside centre Ryan Crotty (hamstring) in the first 30 minutes.
After being on the back foot for the first 10 minutes. the All Blacks gave the Lions a taste of their own medicine with a series of charges through the middle which had the tourists scrambling before they eventually conceded a penalty, which Beauden Barrett converted.
Five minutes later, from a repeat of the same direct approach, the All Blacks won another penalty close to the Lions line.
While the Lions switched off, expecting a shot at goal, the All Blacks took a quick tap which resulted in a try to Taylor in the corner.
After an exchange of penalties by Owen Farrell and Barrett the Lions launched their running game with a counter-attack by Liam Williams inside his own 22 which caught the All Blacks off guard.
He offloaded to Jonathan Davies who took play deep into All Blacks territory, where the ever-present Sean O’Brien finished off a brilliant move.
In a torrid second half in the rain, the game broke open with Ioane’s tries on 55 and 70 minutes.
Rhys Webb scored the Lions’ second try on full-time to at least give the visitors hope ahead of next week’s second Test in Wellington.