Ireland had high hopes, New Zealand worries. In the end, a familiar story unfolded. This particular Irish team may not be used to such heavy defeats, but rugby watchers of any experience will be well aware of the scores, which read: New Zealand 40-plus, someone else much less.
Worse for Ireland, who must now regroup after that six-goal hammering, Johnny Sexton left the field in the first half, the game still in balance, with a head injury. Given World Rugby’s latest press release and Sexton’s history of concussion, he has to stand down for at least 12 days and will miss next weekend’s second Test.
The All Blacks came into play with back-to-back defeats, one to Ireland, their third to the Tourists in five Tests. Hence these strange vibrations in advance. They have also had to prepare without their usual coaching staff, who have been hit by a Covid outbreak. None of this seemed to matter.
It was almost reassuring to see that nothing had changed. What unfolded were classic All Blacks. Ireland felt early on that they were at least an equal to their opponents – and with good reason. 20 minutes they were there. New Zealand is happy to give you that feeling. Then they fall. Or the opposition unraveled. It boils down to the same thing. The All Blacks were trailing 5-0 after the first quarter, but the All Blacks scored four tries in the second. In the midst of all this, Sexton said goodbye.
It all started so well. That confidence that Ireland brings is well placed now that they are comfortable with their place in rugby elite. They rushed to New Zealand like the game was in Cardiff or Edinburgh. And as so often in these places, they got away with an early try. It was excellent too. Nice passes from Garry Ringrose and Hugo Keenan set up Keith Earls, who got the shot on five minutes.
The All Blacks looked unsettled. Then again, one sometimes wonders if they look that way on purpose. At halftime they were less. They batted first a minute into the second quarter. A loop from Ireland’s playbook released the new Leicester Fainga’anuku cap on the left side. He was only just stopped, but Jordie Barrett chose a line and converted.
The next stage in the classic narrative of games against the All Blacks is for the newly chastised hopefuls to keep playing like they can win. Ireland did this. Then our potential challengers usually make a mistake. So did Ireland, their handling creaky under pressure and Sevu Reece snatched the loose ball at 22 to run 80 yards and score.
Sexton left the fight at this point. Ireland fell apart. Jamison Gibson-Park, so lively but now without his captain at his side, overplayed by trying to break free from a defensive tug. New Zealand flipped him over, Beauden Barrett chipped, Quinn Tupaea dotted down.
The All Blacks scored their fourth goal just before half-time to give them a 28-5 lead, more points than Ireland have conceded in a first half in a decade – the last time they were here. Ardie Savea landed the loose ball after Aaron Smith broke.
If that was ugly, Savea’s second to confirm victory in the 53rd minute was a miracle. Any doubts that lingered were largely due to Garry Ringrose’s clever finish just minutes into the second half after Ireland had twice awarded penalties for a corner. So Savea took the ball, hit Ringrose on the outside and slalomed through what was left of Ireland’s defence.
In the final 10 minutes, another debutant, Pita Gus Sowakula, rushed from the base of a scrum to reach the 40. Bundee Aki’s attempt with three minutes left was a consolation, at least for him born just a few miles away.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Let it be known, New Zealand are still taking a beating on home soil.