:The All Blacks weathered Irish storms at the start of each half but responded with six tries to open their 2022 season with a hardfought 42-19 victory in Auckland on Saturday to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Ardie Savea scored either side of halftime – his first in a blitz of three tries in eight minutes – as New Zealand avenged a 29-20 loss in Dublin last November and extended their unbeaten run at Eden Park to 47 tests over 28 years.
Ireland will take confidence for the Dunedin and Wellington tests from dominating for extended periods and breaching the New Zealand line for tries by winger Keith Earls, centre Garry Ringrose and Auckland-born midfield replacement Bundee Aki.
Fullback Jordie Barrett scored a try and converted all six for the All Blacks, while winger Sevu Reece, centre Quinn Tupaea and debutant loose forward Pita Gus Sowakula also crossed for the home side.
“We’re pretty pleased, that’s a good start to the year for sure,” said All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
“We were good for patches, certainly a good start but we’ve got a lot to work on. The boys defended really well, right until the end as well.”
Ireland, who had won three of the last five meetings between the nations but never beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand, came out firing and crucially won the early battle of the breakdown.
Earls went over for his 35th test try after five minutes and Jordie Barrett’s response for New Zealand 16 minutes later was against the run of play.
The Irish were again on the attack after half an hour when Reece scooped up an errant pass and raced away for New Zealand’s second try and there was a second blow for the visitors when skipper Johnny Sexton was forced off after a head knock.
The All Blacks were over again six minutes later when Tupaea ran onto flyhalf Beauden Barrett’s beautifully angled grubber kick and that was followed almost immediately by Savea’s first try.
The Irish reset and cut into the 28-5 halftime deficit four minutes after the break when Ringrose went over in the corner following a fine assist from a spinning James Lowe.
Savea rampaged over after 53 minutes and Irish hopes of wrestling their way back into the contest faded when both Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier were adjudged to have lost control of the ball over the line.
New Zealand now had a firm grip on the contest and the popular Sowakula continued his breakout season by coming off the back of an attacking scrum and flying across the line under the posts.
The Irish never gave up and pounded away at the All Blacks defensive line for much of the last 10 minutes, persisting even after the reward of a consolation try for Aki to take the contest five minutes past the final hooter.
“Overall, I thought it was a great test match and it’ll give us confidence breaking down a defence as good as the All Blacks have,” said Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony.
“Plenty to work on from our side but a huge amount of confidence to be taken from it.”