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All Blacks silence critics with emphatic season-opening win over Ireland

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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The All Blacks have silenced their critics and banished the ghosts of last year by recording a resounding victory over Ireland to open their test campaign.

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Under a barrage of pressure from fans and pundits alike to deliver a performance that could put last season’s underwhelming effort to rest, the All Blacks lived up to – and perhaps even surpassed – expectation in their emphatic 42-19 win.

In front of a boisterous Eden Park crowd of 48,195, the Kiwis shrugged off any doubts that may have lingered to cap off a disrupted week that was plagued by Covid and external scepticism in the best way possible.

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All Blacks post-match press conference
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All Blacks post-match press conference

They did so by producing a physical masterclass in which they outmuscled the Irish in a display that couldn’t be further removed from their 29-20 defeat against the same opposition in Dublin eight months ago.

Instead of being continually beaten to the punch at the breakdown and in the collision zone, the All Blacks threw the knockout blow as they convincingly dispelled the supposed notion floated by one British outlet that they are in “terminal decline”.

In fact, based on what transpired in Auckland, it could easily be suggested that the All Blacks may be back on the upward trajectory given the overwhelming nature in which they stunned a team regarded by most as one of the world’s best.

That’s how impressively the All Blacks dispatched Ireland in a result that bodes for the Kiwis as they enter the next fortnight of tests between against the Irish in Dunedin and Wellington.

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It took some time for the hosts to get going, though, as veteran Ireland wing Keith Earls opened the scoring in a matter of minutes on the back of continuous gain line breaches from his side’s forward pack.

The building blocks that laid the foundation for that try to be scored was indicative of the physical intent Ireland were willing to play with from the outset.

Andy Farrell’s men made it known that they were unafraid – even happy – to crash and bash into their opponents on both sides of the ball, a familiar mindset that powered them to victory last November.

However, unlike last year’s meeting at Aviva Stadium, it wasn’t a mindset the tourists were able to sustain as the All Blacks proved they were capable of footing it with – and exceeding – the Irish from a physicality standpoint.

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That was exemplified when imposing fullback Jordie Barrett burst through a couple of tacklers to equalise for the Kiwis.

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Earlier in the sequence of play, Reece had used his small yet burly frame to cast Ireland halfback Jamison Gibson-Park aside with ease before some ball-playing finesse from Sam Whitelock enabled debutant wing Leicester Fainga’anuku to put Barrett in a position to strike from.

More positively for All Blacks boss Ian Foster, it wasn’t solely on attack where his side began to flourish in the rough stuff.

Defensively, their bruising and suffocating approach to the game thwarted Ireland’s plan to build another sequence of phases inside New Zealand’s half from the ensuing restart.

The direct result of that was a try to Reece, who scooped up the loose pill to canter 80 metres down the park after some strong defensive pressure yielded some faulty interlinking play between Garry Ringrose and James Lowe.

Most significantly from that passage of play for the Irish, though, was the injury sustained by star first-five Johnny Sexton.

Prematurely forced from the field with about 10 minutes to play in the first half, Ireland’s confidence and ability to play as a cohesive unit collapsed without the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year on the park.

That of the All Blacks, meanwhile, grew tremendously, and that was made crystal-clear when they struck twice more before half-time.

Young second-five Quinn Tupaea was the next to score as he reaped the rewards of Barrett’s visionary grubber kick that was only made possible thanks to the uncompromising breakdown work of his forwards to win possession back inside Ireland’s 22.

Moments later, Ardie Savea closed out a dominant end to the first half by pouncing on the open ball inside Ireland’s in-goal area after Smith put Ireland on the back foot by skirting past a breakdown and chipping the ball ahead of cover defender Earls.

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Down 28-5 at the break, Ireland needed to score first in the second half, and that they did when they were gift-wrapped possession and territory via a couple of All Blacks infringements in the opening few minutes.

Ringrose didn’t need a second invitation to dot down in the left-hand corner when the space was afforded to him, but any cause for Irish celebration was quickly watered down when Savea ripped through an array of green jerseys to grab a brace of tries.

Hope of a potential Irish comeback was eliminated twice in quick succession by the television match official, who ruled that both Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier coughed the ball up in the act of scoring not long after Savea’s second try.

The introduction of New Zealand’s bench players only added to Ireland’s woes, with debutant loose forward Pita Gus Sowakula the standout of the All Blacks reserves.

Powering over for a try from the back of a scrum from close range – a sight often seen throughout the course of Super Rugby Pacific – Sowakula also illustrated his class as a lineout threat, pinching an Irish throw at the first time of asking.

As a whole, the All Blacks held firm on their own goal line, continually repelling Ireland to prevent them from scoring time and time again.

A late consolation try to former Chiefs star Bundee Aki was the only blemish on New Zealand’s stout defence late in the piece, but that couldn’t gloss over the glaring shortcomings evident in Ireland’s game as their wait for a first-ever win on Kiwi soil goes on.

By contrast, the All Blacks will be satisfied in the extreme to have broken their rare two-match losing streak and kick 2022 off with a bang through a momentum-building victory that could pay dividends over the coming weeks.

All Blacks 42 (Tries to Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea, Ardie Savea (2) and Pita Gus Sowakula; 6 conversions to Barrett)

Ireland 19 (Tries to Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki; 2 conversions to Joey Carbery)

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