It was a forlorn scene as the Lions traipsed round the field, acknowledging the thousands of red-clad supporters who had retained the faith in saluting their heroes no matter the damning evidence of the Eden Park scoreboard. The fans, soaked by the sluicing rain but not subdued, clung to the romance of the experience. The players themselves, crestfallen and chastened, knew better. This was not a fairy-tale but a recurring nightmare. You compete, you contest, but you are simply blown away by the clinical execution of the opposition. It wasn’t that the Lions were inept. It was that the outcome had a sense of inevitability about it. This was a lap of deep reflection for the Lions. The honour belonged to the All Blacks.
The Lions had been given a master-class in finishing. They had created decent opportunities but they had failed to get across the line, the Liam Williams-inspired rabbit-out-of-the-hat touchdown by Sean O’Brien in the 36th minute notwithstanding as well as a late effort from Rhys Webb. O’Brien’s try was the exception on the night, a lone example of boldness getting its reward through poise at the crunch moment allied to good support play. It was a rage against the dying of the light but darkness still fell on the Lions.
The Lions will rue their rashness, converting only one from four gilt-edge opportunities, (excepting Webb’s effort), the All Blacks meanwhile hitting a perfect return on their sorties towards the try-line, rookie wing, Rieko Ioane getting two tries, hooker Codie Taylor the other. That was Ioane’s first start while Taylor is not normally first choice. Such riches. Such prowess. Scary.
Throughout the tour, the Lions’ Achilles heel has been their finishing. They have created but they haven’t converted the chances. The All Blacks are the most potent side in the world in the red zone, an area that extends the length of the pitch as far as they are concerned, while the Lions have left tries out there right throughout the tour. The All Blacks, by contrast, delivered, the man in black with the cold-eyed ability of the assassin. One shot is all that they need.
There were other frailties in the Lions’ game. Their discipline was wayward, their error-count under duress too high and their concentration levels variable. Elliot Daly was caught napping out wide on the left for Taylor’s straightforward try from Aaron Smith’s eagle-eyed tap penalty. “I was in no man’s land,” was Daly’s apology to his teammates at half-time.
But there are deeper concerns than mere lapses in focus. In the macho posturing that attends such north versus south battles, it is often claimed that European teams have the whip hand when it comes to forward play. If there was one match that proved that such a theory was bunkum it was this one. The All Black front five ( if hooker Dane Coles is fit) stands on a par with any of recent times. The locking combination of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick is without equal. Retallick was a colossus on the night, challenging, relentless, ever-present.
The Lions were bested and beasted at the breakdown. They were also sucker-punched in and around the narrow confines of the base, where the All Blacks drove hard and often off Aaron Smith. It was a ploy to negate the aggressive line speed of the Lions in defence. And it worked to a tee. You might argue that the All Blacks were right on the edge of legality in the way they smashed forward. And you would be right. To suggest that referee, Jaco Peyper, was lenient is to miss the essence of this elevated level of competition. You push the parameters and you make it happen for you. The All Blacks did that in Dublin in November after defeat in Chicago. Pressure does not cripple them, it energises them. They sure as hell did not want to be associated with ‘negative history,’ as former All Black wing, John Kirwan, terms it, the first All Black side to lose at Eden Park in 23 years.
They had some big performers on the night. Sam Cane put in a shift that was reminiscent of the man before him in the No 7 shirt, Richie McCaw, while scrum-half, Aaron Smith, that quicksilver, ever-alert figure, was the perfect man to set New Zealand’s game plan into motion, his tap penalty in the 17th minute leading to the Taylor try. There is no more aware scrum-half in the world, popping passes, finding close support, helping set the Lions back on their heels. The vaunted aggressive defence was put in its box.
And then there was Kieran Read. The All Black No 8 has become just the sort of go-to leader that his predecessor Richie McCaw was: selfless, rugged and wholly committed despite the fact that he had not played for seven weeks with a thumb injury. It looked as if he had never been away. Read’s flick up to Aaron Smith at a dominant All Black scrum in the 55th minute sent his team on their way to the try-line again, rookie Rieko Ioane, diving in at the corner. Slick, unfussy, devastatingly effective.
The Lions did have their upbeat periods. They ought to have made better use of a first minute upfield bust by Jonathan Davies, a potent of things to come. They also began the second-half at a rattle but again could not deal on two more promising situations, not getting across the line and also getting turned over.
The Williams coup de theatre will be seared in many a memory bank, the full-back taking a tricky inside ball from Anthony Watson and going for broke. Past one, past two, and on and on. Jonathan Davies was in support, the centre feeding Daly who leaned in and then out, back infield, and just as Davies was gang-tackled, there was Sean O’Brien in support to score.
It was a length-of-the-field sequence, in the style of the 1973 Barbarians.
Williams, though, was to show the flip side of his game with a blooper under the high ball in the 69th minute, Ioane profiting as he streaked clear. Webb got a try on the final whistle. It was scant consolation. The Lions had been well-beaten.
All Blacks skipper (and superhuman) Kieran Read to Sky
“Our defence after half-time maybe won us the game. We had our opportunity and we took it.”
Early thoughts of Peter O’Mahony to Sky Sports
“I thought we had an excellent first half and created plenty of chances. We have to recover, regroup and move on now.”
Full-time | New Zealand 30-15 Lions
Owen Farrell knocks over the conversion and that is full-time. The Lions will have to go to Wellington and win to keep the series alive.
Try, Rhys Webb! New Zealand 30-13 Lions, 81 minutes
That’s a consolation. Webb darts once, gets stopped. The Lions recycle. Webb dummies and darts again. He’s over.
The Lions maul edges forward a few metres. Davies gets a run and Sexton and Farrell attempt a run-around play. Barrett almost snaffles an interception but, mercifully for the Lions, the ball hits the floor. Scrum to the Lions on New Zealand 22.
New Zealand overthrow their lineout and the Lions win a penalty in midfield. Sexton goes to touch again.
The Lions sack the New Zealand driving maul illegally. All of a sudden, the All Blacks are into the Lions 22 again.
Besides everything else, New Zealand scramble so well. TJ Perenara races across as the Lions spread it left and wins a penalty on the floor. Superb from the scrum-half.
Beauden Barrett is taken out in the air by Taulupe Faletau from the restart. The All Blacks miss touch, so Anthony Watson runs it back and Kyle Sinckler trucks the Lions into the All Blacks half.
Try, Rieko Ioane! New Zealand 30-8 Lions, 69 minutes
Game over. TJ Perenara hooks a box-kick into the air and the Lions let it drop. Ioane flies through, picks the ball up and glides past Elliot Daly under the posts. Beauden Barrett has another conversion.
And Sam Whitelock steals it ahead of George Kruis! TJ Perenara is charged down, but that’s a body blow for the Lions.
Fantastic touch-finder from Sexton. The Lions are inside the New Zealand 22. Rhys Webb and Ken Owens come on. The Lions need a try here. Now.
Aaron Cruden hits Sexton hard on the gain-line but the Lions have a penalty advantage. It was Sam Cane with an off-the-ball block.
Codie Taylor’s throw skews off the straight. Scrum to the Lions just short of their 10-metre line.
Beauden Barrett goes close and Anton Lienert-Brown nearly squeezes over but he knocks on, so we come back for an All Blacks penalty. They go to the corner after a consultation, but Maori Itoje nabs the lineout!
The Lions are forcing it now, and Owen Farrell’s pass drops short of Anthony Watson. New Zealand are into the Lions 22 again…and they have a penalty advantage.
Sexton is caught offside. A big tackle from Maro Itoje stops the All Blacks attack, but Barrett should make it a 15-point lead.
New Zealand nab the lineout now and are within seven metres. Another score kills off this game.
Sexton’s first contribution is to make a tackle on a runaway Sonny Bill Williams. New Zealand get over the gain-line, though, and Barrett stabs through a clever grubber.
Conversion, Beauden Barrett! New Zealand 20-8 Lions, 56 minutes
Fantastic kick from Barrett. Aaron Smith is off for the All Blacks, replaced by TJ Perenara. Jonathan Sexton is on too, with Ben Te’o making way for the Lions. Warren Gatland is chasing the game with two playmakers.
Try, Rieko Ioane! New Zealand 18-8 Lions, 55 minutes
Rieko Ioane is over! New Zealand smashed the Lions at the scrum, winning a scrum advantage. Then a miracle offload from Kieran Read set away the New Zealand backline. Cruden finds Ioane on the left touchline and his pace is electric.
We need a look at Read’s pass – it did look like he might have spilled it – but it was just breathtakingly good.
“We’ve gotta go, we’ve gotta go, we’ve gotta go.”
Jamie George there at an important scrum.
Peter O’Mahony makes way for Sam Warburton. He’d been struggling for a couple of phases.
Oooosh. Noise goes up as an All Blacks pass goes loose and Elliot Daly races onto it, but the touch-judge spots a Lions knock-on.
The Lions defence looks secure during a long period of New Zealand possession. Then the All Blacks poke through a grubber, though, and Liam Williams can only slice into touch.
Liam Williams chases his own up and under and Maro Itoje makes his first tackle. The Lions pin New Zealand in their own half for a while but then the All Blacks recover an Aaron Smith high ball.
The rain is coming down now. The scrum goes down but Peyper allows the Lions to play it. Owen Farrell kicks long and Beauden Barrett responds. Lions lineout close to halfway.
The two Aarons, Smith and Cruden, play a gorgeous one-two to bring the Lions over halfway. The All Blacks bring the ball right and it goes down.
Here comes Maro Itoje…Alun Wyn Jones is off.
New Zealand complete turnover and Israel Dagg boots it clear, but back comes Anthony Watson! The Bath man slices through but his offload goes to the floor. This Test is a wild ride.
The Lions lose the lineout but then win back a turnover . They are within five metres…
Liam Williams is having a whale of a game. He sparks another thrilling counter with Jonathan Davies and gets the ball back five metres out. The Lions recycle and Kieran Read is offside. Yellow card? Don’t be silly.
The Lions run the ball from deep, with Te’o in the action once more. Jonathan Davies then goes down-town.
Sonny Bill Williams is SMASHED by Ben Te’o! But it’s a penalty lifting above the horizontal. New Zealand go to touch…and the Lions have won it back.
Got your breath back? Had a coffee top-up? We’re going again. Elliot Daly chases Owen Farrell’s restart and almost gets there! Scrum to New Zealand inside their own 22.
Former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick on the first half…
“We said they’re potentially the best two teams in the world, and we’ve definitely seen that. An outstanding Test match.”
All Blacks in control of the ball
New Zealand leading those key categories of possession and territory, with 57 and 59 percent respectively.
Half-time | New Zealand 13-8 Lions
New Zealand spill and Conor Murray kicks the ball out. Breathless.
This is so frenetic. New Zealand are into the Lions 22 through Brodie Retallick but Ben Te’o comes in with a monstrous tackle.
The Lions are cooking now. There is real energy in their phase play. But a carrier gets isolated and New Zealand will end the half with the ball…
Try, Sean O’Brien! New Zealand 13-8 Lions, 37 minutes
That is one of the great Lions tries. Liam Williams starts it all off inside his own 22, scything through the middle. He links with Jonathan Davies, who releases Elliot Daly. Sean O’Brien is storming up on the inside and goes over! That is such an important response for the Lions.
Owen Farrell misses the conversion, but the tourists have a big boost.
Ben Smith will not be coming back, we hear. Meanwhile, Beauden Barrett takes a Murray box-kick.
Penalty, Beauden Barrett | New Zealand 13-3 Lions, 33 minutes
That has all come from the recovered restart. I think it was Brodie Retallick who got up to win it.
Ryan Crotty is coming off, with Anton Lienert-Brown – superb last week against Samoa – replacing him.
New Zealand win back Cruden’s restart and Read surges through, releasing an offload that brings New Zealand into the 22. Tadhg Furlong then cannot roll away quick enough, so it’s another All Blacks penalty.
Penalty, Owen Farrell | New Zealand 10-3 Lions, 30 minutes
On the half hour, Farrell pulls the Lions back to within a score.
The Lions go off the top and Anthony Watson cuts back against the grain. New Zealand do not roll away quickly enough, so Owen Farrell will go for the posts.
Very interesting play from Israel Dagg. He takes the ball at first receiver and aims a cross-kick over to Rieko Ioane. It just sails into touch, though. Here comes the Lions lineout maul, which wins a penalty…
…Owen Farrell finds Elliot Daly with a cross-kick on the advantage. The England wing scampers clear but the ball is loose. We go back for the penalty.
Ben Smith is going off for a head injury assessment, which means a re-jig for New Zealand. Aaron Cruden is on at fly-half with Beauden Barrett dropping back to full-back.
Mako Vunipola wins a turnover and the Lions have an opening but Alun Wyn Jones drops the ball in midfield…New Zealand threaten on turnover ball and then Tadhg Furlong charges down Aaron Smith. He’s knocked it on according to Jaco Peyper, so it’s a scrum to New Zealand.
A lenghty pause as Jamie George receives treatment. He’s fine though, and throws the lineout.
Conor Murray kicks down-field now and Elliot Daly hares after Beauden Barrett. Barrett offloads to Dagg, though, and New Zealand clean up a sticky situation.
New Zealand hit touch on the 10-metre line and Read takes Taylor’s throw. Sean O’Brien hits Sonny Bill Williams and forces the ball loose…
It’s been a frenetic opening but amid the tension, New Zealand’s class is really showing.
New Zealand get a nudge on the Lions’ put-in and Owen Farrell is clobbered by Sonny Bill Williams. Lions recycle though, and Murray goes to the air. Ben Smith spills and Sean O’Brien grabs the ball, but Sam Cane is over him to win a penalty.
The Lions need a response…but Sam Cane isn’t feeling generous. He strips the ball from George Kruis. Barrett spills under a heavy hit from Ben Te’o, so the Lions will have a scrum.
Try, Codie Taylor! New Zealand 10-0 Lions, 19 minutes
That’s why they’re champions. Aaron Smith scents blood and taps quickly to give the All Blacks a chance against a Lions defence that is scrambling. New Zealand spread the ball left and hooker Taylor scoops the ball of his toes from Israel Dagg…
…then Barrett adds the extras from the touchline.
The speed of New Zealand’s ruck ball is rapid and the Lions concede a penalty for not rolling away quick enough….
So slick from New Zealand. Ben Smith dances them over the gain-line and then they flood through in support, crossing the Lions 22 with some deft interplay.
New Zealand clear to touch and then sack the Lions maul. Then they win a turnover. Excellent play from the hosts. Brodie Retallick right at the heart of it.
Penalty, Beauden Barrett | New Zealand 3-0 Lions, 13 minutes
An easy strike. Despite murmurs that his kicking is a weakness, Barrett has been very good from the tee in his last few outings.
Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick make ground around the fringes and the Lions are caught offside. Beauden Barrett will go for the posts for the first points of the series.
That’s the first glimpse of the Beauden Barret kick-pass…Anthony Watson does brilliantly to pull it in and call for the mark.
New Zealand work the blindside and eke out some room. They are up to the Lions 22.
The Lions are not afraid of moving the ball inside their own half here. Mako Vunipola pulls back a nice pass and the tourists almost have a chance after Ben Smith botches a Murray box-kick.
However, Tadhg Furlong forces a pass and New Zealand snaffle it, hacking into touch.
Sonny Bill Williams has his first offload of the night but Liam Williams wins an excellent breakdown turnover as the All Blacks pour through. Owen Farrell clears long and New Zealand kick to touch.
The first scrum needs a re-set. There’s a bit of tension out there, understandably.
It’s frantic early on. The ball goes loose a couple of times and New Zealand will have the first scrum.
The Lions try to spoil New Zealand’s lineout put the All Blacks win it and Aaron Smith goes high. Daly takes under huge pressure from Kieran Read.
That’s frustrating. The Lions get offside at the lineout and New Zealand will be able to clear.
Ben Te’o gets an early carry and Jonathan Davies flies through! He links up with Murray on the inside and Owen Farrell passes to Elliot Daly from the next ruck. Is the Englishman in?! We’re up to the TMO.
Promising start for the Lions. New Zealand spill Murray’s kick and then Aaron Smith gives away a soft penalty. Owen Farrell finds touch.
We’re underway! Referee Jaco Peyper blows his whistle and Beauden Barrett starts us off! It’s a long strike and Taulupe Faletau takes, carrying hard. Conor Murray goes high.
Thoughts of our man on the ground
We caught up with Mick Cleary, who’s at Eden Park.
Lions Bulletin: Pre Match 24th June
Respect to start the series
These two have been jousting via media soundbites for the past month. Nice to see them shake hands.
15 minutes to go
All those ‘who’s in your team’ articles over the past four years, all the #Welshbias claims on Twitter. They don’t matter now.
Is on one. The former Wales number eight has just given a growling, almost hysterical pep talk to his Sky Sports cameraman….too late to get him on the bench instead of Sam Warburton?
Scrum, scrum, scrum
Live scrummaging is an important part of the warm-up for the Lions. Graham Rowntree needs his front row to hit the ground shoving.
“I’m a menace in Pete’s world”
Lovely interview with Sean O’Brien on Sky Sports. The Ireland openside says Peter O’Mahony has not escaped mickey-taking since winning the Lions captaincy.
That thumb will be tested. Then again, this is a 97-cap all-time great we are talking about.
“Yes he’s a freak”
Justin Marshall doing a bit of pre-match analysis on Sky Sports. Guess who he’s on about?
Sonny Bill Williams, of course. The offload-flipping, multi-sport wonder-athlete.
It is Aaron Cruden on the bench, rather than Lima Sopoaga. My detective work earlier was not so sharp after all.
“I’m not sure whether these are the best two teams in the world…but I am sure that there is a fierce rivalry and my players are excited. It’s like a World Cup”
Hansen does not do hyperbole, or even excitement. So these are pretty telling sentiments.
Electric for the Blues, underwhelming for the Maori All Blacks. Which version of the 20 year-old will we get today? He looks fairly chilled out about it all.
All Blacks arrival
That’s Lima Sopoaga first off the coach…does that mean he will be on the bench rather than Aaron Cruden?
Also, that is a savage mullet on Liam Squire.
One hour to go
Warren Gatland also spoke about the kicking game of Beauden Barrett. A month ago, we took a detailed look at how the New Zealand fly-half teases opposition back three players out of position.
“We’ve got to take opportunities. If that means throwing an offload, we’ve got to be bold enough to do that.
“We’ve been happy with the way we’ve been defending. It will be interesting to see what tactics the All Blacks come with.”
This is little Israel, son of Taulupe. The number eight has been magnificent on this tour.
“This is my day to show the world how amazing I am”
Adam Jones talks us through life as a Lion on Test match day. That quote is his impression of Mike Phillips, by the way. Great stuff.
All Blacks run-down
It’s a pleasure to have Ben Coles on the Telegraph team as of this week. He’s taken a look at the New Zealand 23, player by player.
Away from Auckland, there is more rugby going on. Fiji have beaten Scotland, who turned over Australia last week, in Suva. Here are the scenes at the final whistle of a 27-22 win. Awesome.
Get your kicks
The tussle for territory is going to be vital. Conor Murray and Aaron Smith are box-kicking supremos – perhaps the best in the world. Beauden Barrett teases back three players out of position all the time, and Owen Farrell is not bad himself .
Watch Will Greenwood explain what is a pivotal area.
I mean, there is a fair amount of hope-over-expectation going on here…
…I’m speaking for myself, at least. My shout is based on the fact that New Zealand are only going to get slicker as the series goes on. But have your say below as well, please.
An open letter to the Lions
Sir Ian McGeechan addresses the Lions, here. ‘You are representing the greatest rugby team on earth’.
Head to head
There are compelling individual tussles across both 23s, but the headline act is sure the contest between fly-halves Beauden Barrett and Owen Farrell. Our man Mick Cleary takes a closer look in this piece.
A still Auckland evening, then…Graham Rowntree’s rain-dancing is not yet working.
All Blacks alumni
This man will be in the ground tonight. With New Zealand yet to decide on their replacement fly-half, could we see a sensational story? Given Carter’s form for Racing last season, some Lions fans might hope so.
Sea of pints
And this is what will keep them going. A good find from our very own Will Greenwood.
Of course this was four hours ago. Most of them will be long gone.
Sea of red
Auckland is awash with Lions fans, we hear. They will have run out of face paint by Test three at this rate.
Two hours to go
Well, slightly longer than two hours. Are those storm clouds? Might it rain? The surface looks impeccable.
Here we go, then. After four years of selection speculation, picking prospective squads and wondering whether the British and Irish Lions will be able to overturn the back-to-back world champions, the Test series starts in Auckland.
New Zealand are confident. Captain Kieran Read has said that he absolutely expects to win. Who can blame him? Since the start of Rugby World Cup 2011, the All Blacks have won 70 of 76 fixtures. They have only lost four times.
At today’s venue, Eden Park, their record is even more staggering. They have not been defeated there for 23 years.
Steve Hansen has made a few changes from the side that destroyed Samoa 78-0. Captain Read returns with Ardie Savea dropping to the bench., Anton Lienert-Brown also joins the replacements. Ryan Crotty comes back in for him, meaning Sonny Bill Williams keeps the 12 shirt.
But the big surprise sees Rieko Ioane usurp Julian Savea on the left wing. Ioane is just 20 and makes his maiden Test start. But the Lions know his worth from an electric try-scoring performance for the Blues earlier this tour.
15. Ben Smith, 14. Israel Dagg, 13. Ryan Crotty, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 11. Rieko Ioane, 10. Beauden Barrett, 9. Aaron Smith; 1. Joe Moody, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Brodie Retallick, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Jerome Kaino, 7. Sam Cane, 8. Kieran Read (captain).
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.
Warren Gatland unfurled a couple of eyebrow-raising calls of his own. Besides Peter O’Mahony captaining from blindside flanker, England wing Elliot Daly and Wales full-back Liam Williams have ransacked the squad.
Elsewhere, the experience of Alun Wyn Jones is preferred to the exuberence of Maro Itoje. Will this blend be enough to cause an upset? It is going to be fascinating to find out.
15. Liam Williams, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Jonathan Davies, 12. Ben Te’o, 11. Elliot Daly, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Tahg Furlong, 4. Alun Wyn Jones, 5. George Kruis, 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain), 7. Sean O’Brien, 8. Taulupe Faletau.
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.