AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Rocked by an early Ireland onslaught, the All Blacks staged a superb recovery to score four first-half tries on the way to a 42-19 win at Eden Park in the first match of a three-test series on Saturday.
Ireland had the All Blacks rattled with the intensity of its performance in the first quarter. It scored the first try through veteran winger Keith Earls after only six minutes and had New Zealand mostly in retreat.
All Blacks fans would have feared a repeat of New Zealand’s losses to Ireland in three of their last five meetings, including the most recent in Dublin last November.
But the match was transformed in the 21st minute when the All Blacks scored their first try through fullback Jordie Barrett to seize a 7-5 lead against the run of play. Winger Sevu Reece dashed 80 meters for an intercept try in the 30th and Ireland suddenly was thrown onto the back foot.
New Zealand’s resurgence turned around a critical moment in the match when Ireland’s talismanic captain Jonathan Sexton left the field for a head injury assessment and didn’t return. Ireland seemed shaken by the loss of Sexton’s composed presence and New Zealand ran in tries to center Quinn Tupaea and back-rower Ardie Savea to lead 28-5 at halftime.
Ireland also scored the first try of the second half, to center Garry Ringrose. Sexton’s replacement Joey Carbery added the conversion to cut New Zealand’s lead to 28-12.
New Zealand rallied again, this time with far more composure and concerted purpose. Savea won a lineout on the left-hand touch then raced across field to step through three tackles and score his second try.
Ireland’s luck had changed with the momentum of the match. Carbery went close to scoring but lost the ball over the try-line in Rieko Ioane’s tackle. From a subsequent penalty the back-rower Josh van der Flier dived across the line between the posts but he also lost control of the ball.
With those misfortunes, Ireland hopes of first win in New Zealand slipped away.
New Zealand attacked again and, choosing to take a scrum from a penalty under the crossbar, it turned the Irish pack and No. 8 Pita Gus Sowakula scored a try on debut.
Ireland had the last score with a try in the 77th minute to New Zealand-born center Bundee Aki who also scored on Wednesday in Ireland’s 32-17 loss to New Zealand Maori.
“We were good in patches and we’ve got a lot to work on,” New Zealand captain Sam Cane said.
Even in defeat, Ireland might have found the seeds of a future victory in the two other tests. They showed that when they win quick ruck ball they can stretch the All Blacks' defense, but a winning effort will require them to achieve that for longer periods.
They scored three tries to the All Blacks’ six but they also crossed the New Zealand line on more occasions and they forced New Zealand to make almost 200 tackles.
“We started well, got in front early but a couple of mistakes, a couple of discipline errors cost us,” said Peter O’Mahony who finished as captain.
“We lost our way a little coming into halftime but I thought we regrouped really well. Overall I thought it was a great test match.”
The All Blacks came into Saturday’s match under immense pressure. They lost the last two matches of last year and faced the prospect of losing three tests in a row for the first time in 15 years.
They also risked losing their precious winning streak at Eden Park which stretches into its 28th year.
Their preparation was disrupted by the absence of their coach Ian Foster, two assistants and three players to COVID-19. But they rose above those tribulations and the challenge leveled by Ireland in the first 20 minutes to secure an important win.
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