All Blacks punish Lions in their garden of Eden
Tourists have their moments but Lions unable to live with All Blacks pace
Aaron Smith celebrates Rieko Ioane scoring their second try. Photograph: Marty Melville/Inpho
New Zealand 30 British & Irish Lions 15
Just too good. The world’s best side at this point in time - and perhaps any other - showed no signs of rust and, a little scarily, will probably only sharpen and fine tune and highly skilled game. The Lions took it to the home side whenever they could and were still in it at half-time, but the All Blacks’ relentless pressure ensured they pulled clear around the hour mark.
Having played perhaps a little impatiently and with too much width in the first-half, the All Blacks adapted to the heavy rain which hit the third quarter with a narrow, more direct and ruthlessly effective game, before choosing their moment to go wide to clinical effect.
It was Kieran Read’s first outing since early April, and only his sixth in seven months, but you’d never have known. He led the charge with his hard running (making 18 carries) and physicality, and also produced one of the game’s most skilful, defining moments with a pass off the ground which led to the All Blacks’ killer second try by Reiko Ioane.
Ioane’s selection was more than vindicated by his second, more opportunist try when Liam Williams, his head heavily bandaged, let a high ball slip through his grasp. Sonny Bill Williams became their battering ram of choice, making 16 carries, Brodie Retallick had a monster game, as ever, Beauden Barrett was in customary cruise control mode, even after switching to fullback in the first-half, while Israel Dagg had several significant interventions.
All that said and done, the Lions brought plenty to a wonderful occasion, with the back three’s counter-attacking augmented by the potent running of Jonathan Davies. Toby Faletau was enormous in defence especially, with 20 tackles. Sean O’Brien had a big showing and finished off the try of the game.
Indeed, the All Blacks (who made 11 line breaks to seven) were indebted to their scramble defence until Ioane’s brace, and no less than the winger, the Lions’ coaches were also vindicated in their selection of an untried back three, particularly Liam Williams. This yielded one of the great Lions’ tries, which briefly threatened to make this a close contest.
Their lineout went better than the All Blacks, their kick-chase game was again strong, but their scrum struggled, and the home side’s bench had the bigger impact, while the 11-6 penalty count hurt them hard. The referee’s assistants were particularly hot on the Lions’ defensive line stepping off too quickly.
Everybody had taken their seats well before kick-off. With tickets priced at up to the €300 mark, no-one wanted to miss a minute of this, not even the build-up. The pitch looked perfect, and the day’s showers had relented.
The sight of Peter O’Mahony leading the Lions out was something to behold. It sent a shiver down your spine. He had his game face on. It was a slow walk and gentle trot onto the pitch, and ditto Kieran Read and the All Blacks.
Amid a vast sea of black and red, there were no neutrals in the crowd, and the amount of red suggested there were indeed at least 20,000 of them in attendance. The rendition of the New Zealand anthem was sung with passion, and the Haka rapturously received.
Much had been pre-match focus had been on Conor Murray’s box kicking, and his first had enough hang time for Anthony Watson to chase and leap, forcing a spillage from Ben Smith, and an ensuing penalty went against Aaron Smith for going over the top.
The Lions went through the phases off the lineout, getting O’Brien, Ben Te’o and Mako Vunipola rumbling, before Jonathan Davies exploited a yawning gap. Murray supported him on the inside, and from the recycle when he was tackled short of the line, Elliot Daly spun and tried to dive over. But Dagg not only made the tackle, but also twisted Daly into the corner flag before the winger could ground the ball.
There were only two minutes on the clock. It would have been some start for the Lions.
Instead, the All Blacks soon began to go through the gears and the phases. Barrett began to change the mood music when responding to his grubber being blocked by Murray. On the retreat, he picked up one-handed and swayed out of danger in one sublime moment. The home crowd cooed, not least when it was shown again on the big screens.
A risky offload by Tadhg Furlong to Williams resulted in a turnover and the All Blacks attacked in waves again. Faletau produced big tackles on Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams, Owen Farrell making it a double hit to prevent the offload. But a second penalty for offside led to Barrett opening the scoring.
Back they came once more after Retallick’s strength over the ball won a turnover scrum. The mix of offloading and tip-on passes, as with Sam Cane on to Read, off lightening quick ruck ball was stretching the Lions’ defence. When George Kruis was penalised for not rolling away, Smith spotted space out wide and tapped quickly, Barrett skip-passing to Dagg, who fired a left to right spin pass which Codie Taylor snaffled from his boot laces before finishing outside Daly, who looked to have been caught out a little. Barrett even converted from the touchline.
It was coming.
The Red Army were as quiet as mice.
After Cane then ripped the ball from Kruis, Barrett knocked on, before Ben Smith, who has had his concussion issues this season, departed for an HIA, which he failed. With the All Blacks think-tank having decided against a back three replacement, this meant the introduction of Aaron Cruden, with Barrett moving to fullback.
Soon after Farrell cross-kicked and Daly beat Dagg in the air, re-gathering the ball before it the ground. Alas, he was unable to offload the ball when brilliantly tackled by Ryan Crotty (who soon departed as well to be replaced by Anton Lienart-Brown).
If Daly had got the ball away to the supporting Davies and Williams, it was a definite try.
Compensation came by way of a Farrell penalty, which was cancelled out by another form Barrett. Whereupon Williams lit up the match. There was little wrong with Aaron Cruden’s kick in behind Watson, but the wing retrieved the ball and passed infield to Williams. He initially intended to kick, but thankfully the pressure forced him to veer infield, and then he accelerated brilliantly to break clear.
He also had the wit to slow down and allow the support to reach him and when tackled he offloaded to Davies, who passed it on to Daly. He beat Lienart-Brown on the outside to find Davies again on his inside, and when three scrambling defenders were drawn to him and he turned to find O’Brien in support for a wondrous 85 metre counter-attacking try.
Murray, who had already been felled late by Jerome Kaino, then had justifiable complaints when knocked to the ground late by Retallick. How did all the officials miss that?
A breathless first-half ended with the All Blacks going through the phases again off a turnover before Dagg spilled the ball, and O’Brien latched onto it before Murray kicked the ball over the touchline.
The rain arrived for the second-half but it only added to the drama, as the tat-for-tat exchanges continued as if the interval made little difference. Again Williams ignited a counter-attack from deep when latching onto a loose ball and passing wide to Davies. The Welsh centre again made big yards before exchanging passes with Daly and then finding Watson in support on his inside, before being hauled down.
The Lions went to the corner with a penalty, but the drive was well held-up before Murray fumbled at the base. Even then Watson took a switch ball from Williams and left a trail of four All Blacks in his wake with his dancing feet only for his offload to go forward. Then it was Reiko Ioane’s turn to make a big break up the left, before a big hit by Te’o forced a spillage by Cane.
The All Blacks adapted to the worsening conditions by narrowing their game, and Cruden tried a cross kick which earned a lineout but the Lions were alert to the quick throw.
Stayin’ alive. But not for much longer.
The Lions had gone to their bench, introducing Maro Itoje, Jack McGrath and then Sam Warburton for O’Mahony, but the introduction of the All Blacks reserve props Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina had a much bigger effect.
After another fine tackle by Te’o in midfield, the ball went forward off the centre to afford the All Blacks a scrum 30 metres out. Their pack powered forward, dismembering the Lions scrum, and with an advantage the Lions switched off a tad once more as Read played a remarkable pass off the ground after Murray had illegally nudged the ball. Aaron Smith gathered and stepped a defender in one movement, linking with Dagg, whose basketball-style pop was followed by Cruden’s skip pass for Ioane to score in the corner. Barrett even added another touchline conversion to make it 20-8.
Aaron Smith was promptly replaced by TJ Perenara, which did little to ease the pressure. If anything, the tempo of the All Blacks running and recycling went up another notch. Only Itoje was now stepping out of the line to make bit hits behind the gain line.
A third penalty against the Lions for offside led to Read asking Barrett to make it 23-8, and a three-score lead. After Barrett nearly scored, and Lienart-Brown lost the ball in diving for the line, next time, they went to the corner. But Itoje made the steal, and Murray’s box kick found touch beyond the 10 metre line.
Warren Gatland had responded to the Ioane try by introducing Johnny Sexton, and shifting Farrell to inside centre. Sexton found a huge touch off a penalty for a belated penalty against Cane for off the ball obstruction, but with Ken Owens’ first touch, Sam Whitelock stole the throw by beating Kruis in the air. Worse still, when Sexton’s flat pass to Farrell went to ground, the ubiquitous Read latched onto it, Perenara’s box kick slipped through Williams’ hands and Ioane gathered the ball on the bounce, beat Daly on the outside with his electric pace to score from half-way. Barrett converted. Naturally.
Williams, his head bandaged following a blow to the head, didn’t look right, and was belatedly replaced.
Though their fans had long since been quietened, the Lions weren’t for rolling over. Sexton and Farrell combined nicely for Kyle Sinckler to make a break before they stretched the All Blacks going left, but O’Brien was pinged for not releasing when his trailers couldn’t clear out Perenara.
Read departed to a deserved standing ovation.
The Lions had the final say when Davies again ran strongly off a dummy and pass from Rhys Webb, who then dummied and plunged for the line inside Scott Barrett.
It was of minor consolation and will be of minor comfort going forward to a series that now looks more daunting than ever.
Scoring sequence: 14 mins Barrett pen 3-0; 18 mins Taylor try, Barrett con 10-0; 31 mins Farrell pen 10-3; 34 mins Barrett pen 13-3; 36 mins O’Brien try 13-8; (half-time 13-8); 55 mins Ioane try, Barrett con 20-8; 61 mins Barrett pen 23-8; 70 mins Ioane try, Barrett con 30-8; 82 mins Webb try, Farrell con 30-15.
New Zealand: Ben Smith (Highlanders); Israel Dagg (Crusaders), Ryan Crotty (Crusaders), Sonny Bill Williams (Blues), Rieko Ioane (Blues); Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes), Aaron Smith (Highlanders); Joe Moody (Crusaders), Codie Taylor (Crusaders), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Brodie Retallick (Chiefs) Samuel Whitelock (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Sam Cane (Chiefs), Kieran Read (Crusaders, captain). Replacements: Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) for B Smith (27 mins), Anton Lienert-Brown (Chiefs) for Crotty (33 mins), Ardie Savea (Hurricanes) for Kaino (47 mins), Wyatt Crockett (Crusaders) for Moody, Charlie Faumuina (Blues) for Franks (both 54 mins), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) for A Smith (56 mins), Nathan Harris (Chiefs) for Taylor (67 mins), Scott Barrett (Crusaders) for Read (77 mins).
British & Irish Lions: Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors, England), Elliot Daly (Wasps, England); Owen Farrell (Saracens, England), Conor Murray (Munster, Ireland); Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England,) Jamie George (Saracens, England), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster, Ireland), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales), George Kruis (Saracens, England), Peter O’Mahony (Munster, Ireland, captain), Sean O’Brien (Leinster, Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales). Replacements: Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) for Jones (48 mins), Jack McGrath (Leinster, Ireland) for Vunipola (52 mins), Sam Warburton (Cardiff Blues, Wales) for O’Mahony (54 mins), Johnny Sexton (Leinster, Ireland) for Te’o (58 mins), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins, England) for Furlong (59 mins), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) for George, Rhys Webb (Ospreys, Wales) for Murray (both 68 mins), Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon, Wales) for Williams (72 mins).
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).