Ireland were nowhere near good enough to end New Zealand’s 28-year unbeaten run at Eden Park, shipping six tries to the All Blacks to lose the first Test in Auckland.
n a frustrating night for Ireland, when they would lose their skipper Johnny Sexton to a failed HIA in the first-half, their opposition were strikingly clinical in attack while Andy Farrell’s men were far too loose, too sloppy, for a challenge of this magnitude.
At the end of a long season, the visitors looked flat for long spells, and error-strewn in others, with a ten-minute spell at the end of the first-half when they allowed three largely avoidable tries doing a significant chunk of the damage.
Given the final score, it will be quickly forgotten but their opening salvo was actually fantastic.
In a move that saw Dan Sheehan pop up with carry after carry and always seem to make a yard after contact, the visitors drew the penalty and with the advantage in their back pocket, went wide through a neat interchange between Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose and Hugo Keenan.
Keith Earls stepped inside the cover to give Ireland the lead.
Ireland’s second highest try-scorer of all time was almost in for another in the opening ten minutes when Peter O’Mahony’s straight poach saw him poke a grubber through for his Munster team-mate but New Zealand scrambled back well.
The All Blacks certainly looked out of their rhythm early in what was the first Test of their season, following a big scrum penalty won against the head with a turnover at the subsequent line-out.
But for all the positives to be drawn from Ireland’s start, the All Blacks response was emphatic. Ahead by the end of the first quarter, the game was over by half-time.
Their first try was typically New Zealand, based upon ball retention and quick recycling before, with Ireland zeroing in on those closer to the ruck, Jordie Barrett came from deep to pick a line through the defence.
With the full-back converting his own score, despite all the flaws in the host’s opening passages, they were 7-5 ahead.
By the half hour mark, too many Irish passes weren’t going to hand, first Ringrose’s attempt to find James Lowe too far ahead of his winger before, more consequently, the same pair were not on the same page and Sevu Reece took advantage to gather the loose ball and sprint all the way to the posts.
As if their 14-5 deficit was not a bitter enough pill to swallow, the sight of their skipper Johnny Sexton leaving the field compounded the disappointment.
If it felt then that it was important that Ireland got to half-time, instead things unraveled. Twice it was kicks in behind that did the damage, first Quinn Tupaea the beneficiary and then, after Aaron Smith had just failed to dot down his own chip, Ardie Savea tidied up for the host’s fourth try of the half.
For all the positives of Ireland’s 15-minute purple patch, they headed for the sheds 28-5 in arrears. Three tries in ten minutes and both the remainder of this game and tour were suddenly feeling long.
With Sexton having failed his HIA, Carbery remained on for the second-half, knocking an early penalty to the corner.
Having turned the ball over so readily in the second quarter, Ireland managed sustained pressure for the first time since Earls’s try with a clever offload from Lowe eventually creating the score for Garry Ringrose.
But if anyone was thinking of a comeback, they were quickly disabused of the notion. Four green shirts tried to halt Ardie Savea but none could and the number eight had his second of the game.
Ireland thought they’d answered back twice in quick succession only for Reiko Ioane to do just enough to force both Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier to lose possession in the act of grounding.
With Ireland increasingly frustrated at the scrum, it was off the set-piece that the All Blacks would score their sixth, replacement Pita Gus Sowakula crashing through Joey Carbery having picked up off the base.
Bundee Aki, after more strong work from Sheehan, would score the game’s final try with a score that highlighted how much harder the visitors were having to work for their points but already by that stage Andy Farrell’s thoughts will have turned to how he can prevent a similar outcome in Dunedin next week.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Sevu Reece, Reiko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, Leicester Fainga’anuku; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; George Bower, Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi; Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock; Scott Barrett, Sam Cane (capt), Ardie Savea. Replacements: Samisoni Taukei’aho (for Taylor, 55), Karl Tu’inukuafe (for Bower, 59), Angus Ta’avao (for Tu’ungafasi, 55), Pita Gus Sowakula (for Retallick, 62), Dalton Papalii (for Cane, 66), Finlay Christie (for Smith, 59), Richie Mo’unga (for Tupaea, 59), Braydon Ennor (for Ioane, 66).
Ireland: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; James Ryan, Tadhg Beirne; Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris. Replacements: Dave Heffernan (for Sheehan, 62-66), Cian Healy, Tom O’Toole (for Furlong, 66), Kieran Treadwell (for Beirne, 64), Jack Conan (for Doris, 56), Conor Murray (for Gibson-Park, 71), Joey Carbery (for Sexton, 30), Bundee Aki (for Earls, 56).
Referee: Karl Dickson.