First blood to New Zealand as the All Blacks proved too good for Warren Gatland’s Lions at fortress Eden Park.
The home side were fully worthy of their 30-15 victory, on a ground they haven’t tasted defeat since 1994, to take the first Test and leave the tourists needing to become the just the fifth Lions side in its 31-tour history to win a series after losing the opening Test.
“No excuse in terms of the result,” said Lions head coach Gatland. “The All Blacks were very direct, better than us at the breakdown and we missed opportunities – all things we can fix.
“We created chances and shifted the ball pretty well. They didn’t come out and play champagne rugby, they were very direct off nine. We were looking to get the upper hand up front, but in fairness to them they got it today.
We know what to expect for next week. The All Blacks sacked our mauls very well; we need to negate that. And there was one scrum that’s caught us as well.
“There’s several areas where we need to be better at the set-piece. The All Blacks’ tight five were very good, but we need to be tough on ourselves and honest in our performance.
“We need to be much more physical next week for the All Blacks.”
The Lions head to Wellington for next Saturday’s second Test knowing that they will need to improve, but also with some optimism. Sean O’Brien’s fantastic first-half try from a team move will live long in the memory of all who saw it, and will give the tourists confidence.
Codie Taylor crossed out wide in the first half after the hosts had weathered an initial Lions storm, which saw Elliot Daly go close in the corner, and with Beauden Barrett flawless from the kicking tee the tourists were on the back foot.
But Liam Williams led a dramatic breakout from his own 22 that culminated in O’Brien going over for a score, and with an Owen Farrell penalty the Lions were in the battle at the break, trailing 13-8.
After the interval the Lions came out firing, with the impressive Jonathan Davies testing the All Blacks’ defence on a wet night in Auckland but the home side held firm before Ioane – on his first Test start – turned on the style.
First the winger dotted down in the left corner after the All Blacks put the ball through the hands and with ten minutes left he broke free from halfway after gathering a fumbled TJ Perenara box-kick.
The Lions kept coming until the final whistle, replacement Rhys Webb darting over from close range but it is the All Blacks who will head to Wellington 1-0 up in the three-Test series.
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) June 24, 2017
Lions captain Peter O’Mahony, said: “We are happy with the opportunities we created. Our discipline wasn’t where it should be, we conceded double figures in penalties.
“We have to regroup, have a good look at that and move on now. We have got to be a little bit more clinical, we are making some good breaks we just have to finish them off.”
New Zealand: B Smith; I Dagg, R Crotty, SB Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, S Cane, K Read (capt).
Replacements: N Harris, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden/L Sopoaga, A Lienert-Brown.
British and Irish Lions: L Williams (Wales); A Watson (England), J Davies (Wales), B Te’o (England), E Daly (England); O Farrell (England), C Murray (Ireland); M Vunipola (England), J George (England), T Furlong (Ireland); AW Jones (Wales), G Kruis (England); P O’Mahony (capt, Ireland), S O’Brien (Ireland), T Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), K Sinckler (England), M Itoje (England), S Warburton (Wales), R Webb (Wales), J Sexton (Ireland), L Halfpenny (Wales).