The All Blacks blew the British and Irish Lions away in the final half hour to clock a commanding 30-15 victory at Eden Park in the first of their three-match Test series. Here’s how we assessed the key talking points from the biggest game of the Lions’ 2017 New Zealand tour so far.
A win built at the breakdown
The All Blacks dominated proceedings at the breakdown at Eden Park, and eventually it was that which allowed them to showcase their prowess in other areas of the game.
Led by Sam Cane, the men in black were urgent and clinical in that area, arriving in numbers to overpower the Lions, while at times testing the limits of the rules and the patience of referee Jaco Peyper.
— CrashballFlyhalf (@LWOScrashball10) June 24, 2017
It helped the hosts to win the penalty count 11-6 and the worrying sign for Lions coach Warren Gatland will be that the All Blacks bossed the breakdown without looking like they were working up too much of a sweat.
A key area for New Zealand which they can give a big fat tick after the opening Test.
“We felt that we could hurt them if we could get in there, it would take away their line speed which would then let us play some rugby,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
Barrett boots away kicking blues
One of the big talking points from a New Zealand point of view heading into the opening Test against the Lions was the reliability of Beauden Barrett’s goalkicking.
It needn’t have been.
In Super Rugby this year Barrett has kicked at just 62 per cent, having attempted 26 conversions and three penalties.
But last week against Samoa his seven goals from eight attempts suggested the perceived worries had been a waste of time, and on Saturday night against the Lions Barrett confirmed it with three conversions and three penalties without a miss.
It’s just as well that Beauden Barrett’s goal kicking is a weakness….
— Tom Quinn (@tomquinny2) June 24, 2017
The only real question mark hanging over the head of Barrett – who impressed after being retrenched at fullback following Ben Smith’s departure – can now be erased.
Injury concerns for All Blacks
If there was a negative for the All Blacks on Saturday night, and it’s a bit of a stretch to find one, it had to be the injury toll they sustained.
Both Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty were forced from the field and didn’t return, with Smith suffering a knock to the head and Crotty lasting just over half an hour before limping off with a recurrence of a hamstring injury.
Of major concern to Hansen will be the fact that both players have suffered similar problems previously, with Smith missing a fortnight of Super Rugby action earlier this year in what was his fourth such complaint in as many years.
Crotty left the All Blacks’ loss to Ireland in Chicago last year with a hamstring injury, albeit a minor one which took just a couple of weeks to overcome.
Against the Lions Jerome Kaino was also taken for a concussion test, which he passed.
— Bevan Ryken (@bevanryken) June 24, 2017
On a positive note, captain Kieran Read – barely sighted at Super Rugby level this year – was close being the best player on the field in spectacular 77-minute comeback performance.
If Smith and Crotty do miss time, Israel Dagg would be among the favourites to assume the fullback role with Waisake Naholo frothing for a Test recall on the wing, while the youngest Barrett, Jordie, may also feature. Anton Lienert-Brown, who came on for Crotty against the Lions, would likely play centre, though Ngani Laumape could feature on the bench.
Liam Williams worth persevering with
There were periods at Eden Park where it simply seemed no-one in a black jersey could lay a hand on the man wearing No.15 for the Lions.
Liam Williams was dynamic when returning the ball, and it was his clever plays which resulted in a pair of long-range breaks for the Lions, one of which ended in a brilliant try to Sean O’Brien.
While he wasn’t perfect – it was his drop which contributed to Rieko Ioane scoring his second try late in the piece and at times he failed to take the best passing options in attack – Williams seems the type of player the Lions need right now to lift their attacking execution.
Amazed that some want to drop Liam Williams.
One dropped ball.
Offers so much more.
— Paul Williams (@thepaulwilliams) June 24, 2017
The 26-year-old Welsh international finished the match having averaged 10 metres on each of his eight runs, while beating three defenders and registering one clean break.
The Lions’ counterattack – particularly from All Blacks mistakes – was the biggest positive of their performance, and the result could have been very different had they finished off a couple of their chances early in the second half.
Discipline eating Lions
The All Blacks are hard enough to beat as it is, let alone when you gift them possession, territory and points.
The tourists were pinged 11 times for infringements, something which Beauden Barrett punished them for directly by kicking three penalties, while it also meant the Lions gave their opposition the chance to build sustained pressure and eventually overrun them late.
— Independent Rugby (@IndoRugby) June 24, 2017
It’s an area the Lions need to address immediately, otherwise Saturday night almost certainly won’t be the last time the class of 2017 experience what it’s like to be beaten by the All Blacks.
“If you look at the games we have played, that’s the disappointing thing, they have given away a few soft penalties and they have been costly. The games there when our discipline has been good and we have given away less than 10 penalties in the game, it’s reflected in the performance,” Gatland said.