First Test, AucklandNew Zealand (13) 30Tries: Taylor, Ioane 2 Cons: Barrett 3 Pens: Barrett 3Lions (8) 15Tries: O’Brien, Webb Con: Farrell Pen: Farrell
New Zealand snuffed out the British and Irish Lions’ hopes of a shock win with a ruthless display at Eden Park to take what looks like an iron grip on the three-Test series.
A breathless match had been poised at 13-8 at half-time, Codie Taylor’s brilliant pick-up bringing the All Blacks’ opening try before the Lions struck back with a wonderful length-of-field effort begun by Liam Williams deep in his own 22 and finished by Sean O’Brien.
But after the Lions had gone close early in the second period, the home side struck again through Rieko Ioane’s try in the corner after more quick thinking and fast hands.
And the home side took control as the Lions’ much-vaunted replacements struggled to make any impact, Ioane feasting off an error to race away for his second.
Led from the front in Auckland by the outstanding Kieran Read and with fly-half Beauden Barrett impeccable from the tee, landing six from six, this was the All Blacks every Lions supporter had feared, and Rhys Webb’s late try was little consolation for the tourists.
Only once in their history have the Lions won a series in New Zealand, and never having lost the first match – the prospects are ominous with the world champions on this kind of form.
The second Test is in Wellington next Saturday with a match against Hurricanes before that on Tuesday (both 08:35 BST kick-offs).
All Blacks close to their best
After O’Brien’s wonderful try on 35 minutes, arguably one of the greatest in Lions history, the tourists had dared to believe that they could pull off a huge upset at a stadium where the All Blacks have not lost since 1994.
But as on so many occasions in their six-year reign as world champions, Steve Hansen’s men played at a level that no other team can match – dominant at the breakdown, incisive in attack, playing with both pace and precision.
The Lions never got close to the set-piece dominance they had hoped for after the tour wins over the Crusaders and NZ Maori, and while they made several line-breaks they again left points out there at the start of both halves.
Whether it would have made any difference had they crossed the try-line is questionable, the All Blacks able to accelerate away whenever required, scrum-half Aaron Smith another at the top of his game in a team that showed no sign of rustiness.
Gatland’s selections justified
Williams’ spectacular break for the Lions’ first try, along with the swerve and pass of Elliot Daly that carried the move on, justified coach Warren Gatland’s decision to change up his back three.
Ben Te’o also impressed at inside-centre while Jonathan Davies made several bullocking breaks, but Hansen’s own big selections also paid off – Ioane showing remarkable pace to finish that brace of tries on his full debut, Read immense on his comeback from a thumb injury.
There were reasons for Lions optimism, not least the line-breaks made in the first 50 minutes, yet there were also too many errors, albeit brought about by sustained, heavy pressure.
Gatland may opt to start Maro Itoje – who came on for Alun Wyn Jones after 50 minutes – in next Saturday’s second Test, but he will also know that precedent is against his men.
While Webb’s late try kept the final margin below 20 points, this was a chastening experience for the Lions.
And, with the team that lost the first Test going on to take the series only four times in the 31 tours made by the Lions, history is now firmly against them.
Man of the match – Kieran Read
What did the Lions make of it?
Lions head coach Warren Gatland: “No excuse in terms of the result. The All Blacks were very direct, better than us at the breakdown and we missed opportunities – all things we can fix.
“We created chances and shifted the ball pretty well. They didn’t come out and play champagne rugby, they were very direct off nine. We were looking to get the upper hand up front, but in fairness to them they got it today.”
Lions captain Peter O’Mahony: “We are happy with the opportunities we created. Our discipline wasn’t where it should be, we conceded double figures in penalties.
“We have to regroup, have a good look at that and move on now. We have got to be a little bit more clinical, we are making some good breaks we just have to finish them off.”
What about the experts?
Ex-Lions and England winger Ugo Monye: “You have to tip your hat to the All Blacks, the best team in the world just really hit their straps and hit the ground running.
“For all the brilliance we can talk about with the All Blacks – offload ability, X-factor skill, quality players – it came down to the sheer basics, their ability to get over the gain-line and efficiency at the rucks.”
Former England fly-half Paul Grayson: “A chastening experience for the Lions players and management and no doubt the supporters as well.
“Up against an All Black team who continue to set the standards for all others to aspire to, they simply had no answer to some of the brilliance on display, and even though the Lions finished with a consolation score the inquest will be tough.”
How did social media react?
New Zealand: B Smith; I Dagg, R Crotty, SB Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, S Cane, K Read (capt).
Replacements: N Harris, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden/L Sopoaga, A Lienert-Brown.
British and Irish Lions: L Williams (Wales); A Watson (England), J Davies (Wales), B Te’o (England), E Daly (England); O Farrell (England), C Murray (Ireland); M Vunipola (England), J George (England), T Furlong (Ireland); AW Jones (Wales), G Kruis (England); P O’Mahony (capt, Ireland), S O’Brien (Ireland), T Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), K Sinckler (England), M Itoje (England), S Warburton (Wales), R Webb (Wales), J Sexton (Ireland), L Halfpenny (Wales).