|New Zealand (28) 42
|Tries: J Barrett, Reece, Tupaea, A Savea 2, Sowakula Cons: B Barrett 6
|Ireland (5) 19
|Tries: Earls, Ringrose, Aki Cons: Carbery 2
New Zealand emphatically preserved their remarkable 28-year unbeaten run at Eden Park with a six-try win over Ireland to take a 1-0 series lead.
The All Blacks scored four tries in 17 first-half minutes in response to Keith Earls’ score to extend their winning run at the Auckland venue to 47 Tests.
Both sides scored two tries after the break but the result was in no doubt by then.
Ireland also lost captain Johnny Sexton to a first-half head injury.
Sexton failed a head injury assessment (HIA), making him a major doubt for the second Test next week.
Seeking their first win over the All Blacks in New Zealand, Ireland played well in patches – most notably at the start of each half – but were unable to match the intensity or accuracy of their hosts for long enough periods to contain them.
The series now moves to Dunedin, where New Zealand can take an unassailable 2-0 lead.
Ireland know they have their work cut out if they are to take a Test win home with them, and more importantly preserve the feel-good momentum that has been built over the past year and a half.
All Blacks unfazed by quick Ireland start
Saturday’s meeting at Eden Park was a reversal of the sides’ last contest eight months ago in Dublin, in that this time it was Ireland arriving at the end of their season.
While their start was electrifying, the visitors looked shot come half-time as New Zealand moved through the gears to rip away any hopes the visitors had of an unprecedented win.
There is a reason Ireland have never won in New Zealand, and there is a reason that the All Blacks are now 47 games without loss at Eden Park. Ireland brought their best for the first 20 minutes – and it was a highly impressive opening – but found themselves just 5-0 up.
Earls’ sixth minute try was magnificent, as the forwards put in the leg work with phase after phase of powerful carries before New Zealand infringed at the breakdown, giving Ireland licence to throw it out to the backs, where Hugo Keenan found Earls for a typically tidy finish.
It soon unravelled for the visitors though. The All Blacks had taken their best punch and had a whole lot left in the tank.
On 21 minutes, they went ahead as Jordie Barrett provided the finish following debutant Leicester Fainga’anuku’s charge down the left.
Even at that stage, Ireland looked sprightly and moved back into New Zealand territory, but things really unravelled when James Lowe slipped a split-second before Garry Ringrose threw a pass in his direction. The ball hit the deck allowing Sevu Reece to pick up and sprint clear for the second home try.
To compound Ireland’s misery, that was the move in which Sexton sustained the injury that forced him off for a HIA, which he did not pass.
It was a sequence that took the wind out of Ireland and galvanised the All Blacks. They capitalised on the momentum with further scores before the break from Quinn Tupaea and Ardie Savea, with half-backs Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith instrumental in both.
The All Blacks’ performance was even more impressive given their heavily disrupted build-up as Covid-19 ripped through their coaching staff, with backs Will Jordan, David Havili and Jack Goodhue all ruled out after testing positive.
If the team’s training schedule was disrupted as a result, you would not have known. Ireland too did not avoid the virus, with wing Mack Hansen ruled out before they were forced into a late change to the matchday 23, as Finlay Bealham was replaced on the bench by Tom O’Toole.
By the time the second half began, Ireland were realistically in damage limitation mode, but faced with a 23-point deficit they threw caution to the wind and again found an early reward through a fine Ringrose score.
The All Blacks remained well in control, though, and Savea promptly responded with the game’s best individual score as he evaded three Irish tackles to slalom over.
As impressive as they were in attack, New Zealand’s defence was similarly sharp. Ireland had to work remarkably hard for their three scores and were held up over the line on multiple occasions.
Rieko Ioane’s brilliant defence denied Ireland two tries in as many minutes, first with a last-gasp tackle that forced Joey Carbery to lose control of the ball as he stretched to ground, before dislodging the ball from Josh van der Flier’s grasp as he charged over the line.
It was deeply frustrating for Ireland to come away with nothing after several slick passages of play, further compounded when New Zealand went up the other end and found a sixth try through Pita Gus Sowakula.
Bundee Aki came on to score a late consolation try as Karl Tu’inukuafe ended the game in the sin-bin for a trip on Conor Murray, but by then the home fans were firmly in party mode with the dazzling win confirmed.
New Zealand: J Barrett; S Reece, R Ioane, Q Tupaea, L Fainga’anuku; B Barrett, Smith; Bower, Taylor, Tu’ungafasi, Retallick, Whitelock; S Barrett, Kane (capt), Savea.
Replacements: Taukei’aho, Tu’inukuafe, Ta’avao, Sowakula, Papalii, Christie, Mo’unga, Ennor.
Ireland: Keenan; Earls, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton (capt), Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Furlong, Beirne, Ryan; O’Mahony, Van der Flier, Doris.
Replacements: Heffernan, O’Toole, Healy, Treadwell, Conan, Murray, Carbery, Aki.