The All Blacks have gone one-nil up in the three-match series with a hard-fought but ultimately comfortable 30-15 victory at Eden Park.
The All Blacks were bolstered by the return of captain Kieran Read (broken thumb), centre Ryan Crotty (ribs), and 5/8 Aaron Cruden (knee) from injury. The major selection surprise was the dumping of 53-Test wing Julian Savea for Akira Ioane, the latter’s superior ability under the high ball and on defence apparently getting him the nod for his first run-on appearance after two coming off the bench.
The Lions sprung a major surprise of their own in elevating flanker Peter O’Mahoney to the captaincy, tour captain Sam Warburton relegated to the bench. Lock Maro Itoje was another surprise on the bench, the greater bulk of Alun Wyn Jones being preferred in the starting XV. Flyhalf Owen Farrell (quad strain) was passed fit during the week, as was Leigh Halfpenny (concussion), but the selectors chose to start Liam Williams at fullback instead.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
British and Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 George Kruis, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 Leigh Halfpenny
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa). Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Jérôme Garcès (France). TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
The All Blacks survived an early scare when Lions Centre Jonathan Davies broke the line to seemingly send his halfback Conor Murray away for the opening try. Murray was brought down just short, though, and just as it seemed wing Elliot Daly was sure to score from the resulting ruck, his opposite Israel Dagg made a try-saving, ball-and-all tackle in the corner.
That paved the way for the All Blacks to score the first points of the night, 5/8 Beauden Barrett successful with a penalty in the 14th minute. From the next penalty halfback Aaron Smith tapped when everyone in Red seemed to assume another kick at goal was about to happen, shifted it wide to Dagg who threw a long ball to hooker Codie Taylor loitering on the wing. Taylor had work to do, scooping the ball off his bootlaces then maintaining his balance to go over. Barrett’s conversion made it 10-0.
Lions flyhalf Owen Farrell got the Lions on the board with a penalty, Barrett replying soon after to restore the 10-point gap, before the Lions scored one of the great tries seen at this or any other ground.
First, fullback Liam Williams fielded a kick deep in his 22 but instead of taking the soft-option clearance, backed himself to evade All Black No. 8 Kieran Read, which he did with some ease. He then beat five more defenders before being brought down near halfway but not before feeding Davies. After inter-passing with Daly, Davies made the final transfer to flanker Sean O’Brien who crashed over. Farrell converted.
Half time: All Blacks 13-8 Lions
All Blacks wing Reiko Ioane had a quiet first half but justified his selection with two tries in the second. With 55 minutes gone the All Blacks destroyed a Lions scrum and shifted it wide for Ioane to finish. Barrett’s conversion and a penalty soon after took the score to 23-8 and left the Lions needing to score three times in the final quarter.
Ioane’s second try sealed the match. Liam Williams made a rare error, dropping the ball just inside his half. Ioane was first to the ball and had too much strength and speed for Daly to prevent him scoring. A TMO review confirmed the grounding and Barrett added the extras.
The Lions, by now well out of contention, kept up the fight and scored the final try of the night to replacement halfback Rhys Webb but it was too little, too late.
For New Zealand:Tries: Taylor, Ioane 2. Cons: Barrett 3. Pens: Barrett 3
For British and Irish Lions: i: O’Brien, Web. Con: Farrell. Pen: Farrell
The second Test is in Wellington next Saturday, kickoff at 17:35 AEST. Conventional wisdom is that the All Blacks improve through a series, something sure to give coach Warren Gatland and his coaching- and playing groups plenty to ponder in the meantime. There’s also the small matter of the Hurricanes match on Tuesday night but one suspects that will be very much secondary in their thoughts.