NZ media reaction: Gulf in class obvious as Kiwis shone
There’s a growing admiration for the Lions but All Blacks remain supremely confident
All Blacks captain Kieran Read came in for a lot of praise after a superb performance in their win over the Lions at Eden Park. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
All the talk finally came to an end. The back-and-forth between Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland, the Gatland bashing from the Kiwi media, the endless press conferences, opinion pieces and analysis stopped (temporarily) and rugby of the highest quality took to the stage.
Now it all starts again. The difference this time is that New Zealand are one up. And you can be sure the Kiwi rugby-writing juggernaut will make that very clear.
However, there has been a shift. It started after the Lions’ win on Tuesday when the general sense was one of polite surprise at the skill and ambition of this touring side.
For 60 minutes on Saturday the world saw that skill, ambition and more. The (grudging) admiration for Gatland’s side continues to grow.
“Don’t tell me this is the final Lions tour and don’t dare tell anyone in New Zealand. This beautiful, rugby mad nation has been craving a night of test footy like this. The Kiwis have been thirsty for some opposition to remind them what international rugby is really about and they finally got some. What a game,” writes Mark Reason on stuff.co.nz.
The All Blacks won and won well. They were the better team without a doubt. But they were tested and – for a time at least – rattled. And the general feeling is of appreciation for the Lions being the team who tested them. It’s not often world rugby royalty gets challenged like that and even less often at Eden Park where they haven’t lost since 1994. If you want to get a real grip on that then take note of the fact that Rieko Ioane – who scored a brace of tries in the All Blacks win – wasn’t even born until three years into that run.
They just met a team that had too much weaponry – too many ways to break the shackles
In the New Zealand Herald, Gregor Paul continues on a similar vein. It could be seen as patronising but it’s not; the Kiwis were genuinely impressed by the Lions’ play.
“The scoreboard will judge them harshly,” he writes. “But they came to Eden Park with plenty of fight and a little more ambition than they have had so far. They just met a team that had too much weaponry – too many ways to break the shackles.”
Many of the 20,000 Lions fans who descended on Auckland were nicely oiled by the time kick off came around – one so much so that he felt the need to enter onto the playing surface during the second half wearing a pair of runners and nothing else.
Perhaps that was what led Paul to come up with a brilliant metaphor to describe the Lions’ attempts at pass and catch rugby – or playing the All Blacks at their own game, if you will.
He wrote: “The Lions hung in there best they could. They had some joy at the lineout and tackled their hearts out, but as good as it was to see them give pass and catch more of a go, it really isn’t their thing.
“They were honest troopers giving it a go – like the stag at his do forcing down the booze to be a good sport, but not enjoying it.”
The All Blacks are not the Crusaders or New Zealand Maori. And, traditionally, they only get better from here
Back on stuff.co.nz, Liam Napier was going all boxing on us. From booze to boxing by way of rugby, then.
“But, by the finish, Steve Hansen had Warren Gatland on the canvas in the first of this trilogy. This test series is far from over but the Lions coach will now do well to recover. The All Blacks are not the Crusaders or New Zealand Maori. And, traditionally, they only get better from here.”
He finishes off by offering a summation of one of the key differences between the sides.
“The All Blacks’ attitude was summed up in the opening try to Codie Taylor. Quick tap from Aaron Smith, skip ball wide and the hooker effortlessly picks the pass up off his feet to score. In a test of this magnitude, few others teams have the audacity to turn down three points let alone boast a hooker with such skill.
“That’s the difference.”
There was also a lot of love out there for returning All Blacks captain Kieran Read.
In the Herald, Patrick McKendry described his performance as “astonishing” and one in which he “stamped his mark as a leader in every sense.”
He continued: “With the ball, he carried and carried. Without it, he tackled himself to a standstill, broken thumb be damned. Ask Owen Farrell, the Lions No10 who was driven back into the turf by Read in the second half and wasn’t in a hurry to get up again.”
On stuff.co.nz, Marc Hinton waxes lyrical on a similar vein.
“Read evoked images of the great Richie McCaw at his best with a command 76-minute display that saw him at the thick of everything the All Blacks did well in an outstanding display,” he writes.
The gulf in class was, as McKendry writes, very obvious. There are still two Test matches to go and the Lions can turn this around.
But mention that around New Zealand and you’d be sure to get a very dismissive reply.