Ruthless All Blacks punish Ireland errors to rack up hefty winning margin

First Test of the tour goes the way of the hosts despite positive signs from Ireland in attack

New Zealand 42 Ireland 19

Ireland have made progress in the last two and a half years, as evidenced by a dozen wins in their previous 13 Tests going into this match. But the All Blacks in New Zealand is different gravy, all the more so in Eden Park, and this was a shuddering reality check.

While Andy Farrell’s side started well, engineering a fine opening try, had some fine starter plays and certainly kept going in trying circumstances despite all manner of blows.

But as the errors crept in and the All Blacks upped their physicality, increasingly bossing the collisions; pretty much every Ireland mistake was ruthlessly punished. Ireland had some game performers, notably Dan Sheehan and Josh van der Flier, while Peter O’Mahony started brilliantly and Caelan Doris had some good moments.

One of the few other positives was Joey Carbery’s display, which was just as well given Johnny Sexton was forced off after half an hour and failed a HIA, thus ruling him out of the second Test given the new World Rugby protocols. Dave Heffernan also falls into that category on what was a punishing night for this Irish team.

A couple of unlucky bounces and two key intercepts went against Ireland in the first half, but they struggled to cope with the All Blacks’ plethora of big runners. Their pack delivered on their promise by hurting the Irish pack at both scrum – where referee Karl Dickson’s interpretations were open to debate – and the lineout. The frontrow looks barren, witness how many minutes the starting trio played here.

Behind their pack, Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett were imperious, and the All Blacks also protected their try line with more ferocity, holding up Irish players over the line five times.

Unlike Ireland’s 42-10 defeat in the first Test a decade ago and the World Cup pool win over Australia the year before, or most rugby nights in Eden Park, this was a lovely dry night for rugby, although the frequency with which players lost their footing suggested the pitch had been watered too heavily.

Ireland couldn’t have started much better either. When Smith played the ball from an offside position, Sexton went up the line and Sheehan peeled blind off the maul to make the first important incursion.

He was involved another two times at least as Ireland went through over a dozen phases, Jamison Gibson-Park using the blindside smartly as van der Flier and Doris featured prominently to negate the All Blacks’ line speed.

Playing with house money as a result of Sam Cane being offside, there was an impressive shape to Ireland’s attack as Sexton passed beyond Robbie Henshaw’s dummy run for Garry Ringrose to feed Hugo Keenan on his inside. The fullback’s long offload allowed Keith Earls to beat Jordan Barrett on the inside for his 35th Test try.

Sexton skewed the difficult conversion but the momentum remained with Ireland as Ringrose emptied Cane with a good defensive read and O’Mahony won a turnover and chipped ahead for Earls to chase before Jordan Barrett made a diving block into touch.

From another O’Mahony steal, this time at a New Zealand lineout, Ringrose latched on to Sexton’s perfectly weighted grubber in behind the advancing line and passed inside for the supporting Gibson-Park, but Beauden Barrett’s intercept prevented Ireland going 12-0 ahead.

It was a huge moment, compounded by James Lowe not holding on to a pass by Ringrose. Quinn Tupea’s wraparound freed the powerful Leicester Fainga’anuku. Although he was hauled down, from the recycle Jordan Barrett breezed through a stretched green line.

Worse followed for Ireland when Lowe lost his footing and couldn’t gather a risky offload by Ringrose, and as soon as Sevu Reece picked up on his own 22 there was only one outcome. A second seven-pointer was compounded by the departure of Sexton. He had lost his footing for his head to collide with Cane’s leg.

Gibson-Park had been playing well but when he sniped off an Irish lineout inside their 22 he was gobbled up. From the turnover and recycle Beauden Barrett spotted the absence of the scrumhalf as a sweeper, while Keenan stayed wide, with a no-look, sidefooted grubber he set up Tupaea to gather and score at his leisure.

When James Ryan went for a ball he believed to be playable only to concede a penalty, the All Blacks came downfield. Smith punished the lack of a pillar defender with a snipe through the guts, chipping Keenan and just beating Earls to the ball in palming it infield. O’Mahony and Lowe both slipped for Ardie Savea to pounce on the loose ball.

Jordan Barrett’s fourth conversion made it 28-5 and game over by the break, and what’s more word came through that Sexton had failed his HIA.

Ireland did start the second half well, pounding at the All Blacks line off two penalties to the corner before pulling the trigger when Gibson-Park fed Lowe and spun in the tackle and offloaded for Ringrose to finish adroitly by the corner flag.

However, Savea was soon accelerating and beating Ringrose on his outside before stepping inside Earls to finish from halfway

With his last act before being replaced, Doris won a vital turnover and Ireland went to the corner with a penalty, pounding at the line only for TMO Marius van der Westhuizen ruling out finishes by Carbery – a questionable decision – and van der Flier.

O’Mahony was also adamant that Dickson was unfairly penalising Andrew Porter at scrum time, and even more livid when the referee blocked his line when Pita Gus Sowakula powered off the base of a five-metre scrum for a try two minutes after coming on for his debut.

Ireland kept banging on the door and kicked a plethora of penalties and Bundee Aki powered over to give the scoreline a modicum of respectability. Even then Jack Conan and van der Flier were both held up over the line before the All Blacks pack made a statement by repelling an attempted maul with the game’s last play four minutes into overtime.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 6 mins: Earls try 0-5; 21: J Barrett try, con 7-5; 30: Reece try, J Barrett con 14-5; 36: Tupaea try, J Barrett con 21-5; 38: Savea try, J Barrett con 28-5; (half-time 28-5); 44: Ringrose try, Carbery con 28-12; 53: Savea try, J Barrett con 35-12; 71: Sowakula try, J Barrett con 42-12; 77: Aki try, Carbery con 42-19.

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, Karl Tu’inukuafe for Bower, Angus Ta’avao for Tu’ungafasi (all 55 mins), Finlay Christie for Smith, Richie Mo’unga for Tupaea (both 60), Pita Gus Sowakula for Retalick (63), Dalton Papalii for Cane, Braydon Ennor for Ioane (both 67).

Sinbinned: Tu’inukuafe (79 mins).

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: Joey Carbery for Sexton (31 mins), Jack Conan for Doris, Bundee Aki for Earls (both 56), Dave Heffernan for Sheehan (63), Kieran Treadwell for (65), Sheehan for Heffernan (67), Tom O’Toole for Furlong (68), Conor Murray for Gibson-Park (73). Not used: Cian Healy.

Referee: Karl Dickson (RFU).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times