New Zealand scored six tries in a compelling attacking display to beat Ireland 42-19 in the first Test of the three-match series at Eden Park on Saturday.
The All Blacks were in command after opening up a 28-5 half-time lead and Ireland’s problems were compounded by captain Johnny Sexton being forced off with a head knock that will put him in doubt for the second Test in a week’s time.
The home side’s finishing was the difference in a relatively even contest, their individual skill often the basis of breaks while Ireland had to work hard to create their three tries.
New Zealand loose forward Ardie Savea scored two tries, including a dynamic second-half score, while fullback Jordie Barrett converted all six tries and crossed the line himself in a 17-point haul.
The result maintains Ireland’s record of having never beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand, a run they were hoping to overturn after winning three of the previous five Tests between the nations.
It also extends New Zealand’s remarkable unbeaten streak at Eden Park, where they have won 45 of 47 Tests since 1994 with two draws.
Ireland’s hopes nosedived when they lost Sexton to concussion in the first half.
The veteran fly-half failed a head injury assessment and is likely to miss the second Test in Dunedin next Saturday under World Rugby protocols, adding to a mounting injury list.
New Zealand also had to overcome disruption in the build-up, losing the services of seven members of coaching and playing staff to Covid-19.
But it did not show in a strong response to heavy defeats to Ireland and France on their northern hemisphere tour at the end of 2021.
Ireland applied enormous pressure in the opening exchanges, completing 18 phases of play before seasoned wing Keith Earls darted across for his 35th Test try.
New Zealand were scoreless through the first 20 minutes but the floodgates opened soon afterwards, firstly when Jordie Barrett barrelled across, set up by a charge from debut wing Leicester Fainga’anuku.
Momentum swung on the half-hour mark when All Blacks wing Sevu Reece pounced on a loose Garry Ringrose pass and raced 80 metres to score.
In the same passage of play Ireland captain and playmaker Sexton was struck by an accidental forearm from New Zealand counterpart Sam Cane and was unable to return to the field.
New Zealand created two tries in two minutes before the break through short kicks.
Quinn Tupaea capitalised on a slick Beauden Barrett grubber before a chip and chase from Aaron Smith resulted in Savea’s first try.
Ireland began the second half like the first, creating a try for Ringrose through multi-phase pressure but Savea stormed over for his second soon afterwards, making an outside break and leaving three defenders in his wake.
Ireland came close to scoring through Sexton’s replacement Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier but both spilled the ball over the tryline, on each occasion after a tackle from Reiko Ioane.
Replacement All Blacks loose forward Pita Gus Sowakula crossed from the base of the scrum on debut before Ireland had the final say through their Auckland-born replacement back Bundee Aki.