Thrilling skills, the Rieko case and more talking points as the All Blacks maul Lions

The only worry for New Zealand was that Ben Smith suffered his third concussion of the season.

THE FIRST TEST finally arrived today, but the Lions were out-fought all over the park as the All Blacks took a 30 – 15 win. Here’s our match report from Auckland and below you’ll find some quick-fire post-match thoughts.

A dose of reality from All Black pack draws first blood

We may as well call it the Chicago rule: the theory that if you’re going to beat New Zealand, your best bet is catching them cold in the first Test of a run.

Albeit in fortress Auckland, this seems to have been the best chance of a Lions victory as it came just as they had found a fluidity in their game after building a rhythm in their weeks together.

A view of a scrum Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The All Blacks, meanwhile, had just one cakewalk against Samoa under their belts, but don’t underestimate the power of the continued assertions from both sides that the Lions pack would have the edge. Just because the world champions like to tear teams apart out wide, doesn’t mean they don’t relish the chance to show off their arm-wrestling prowess when it’s called for.

In one fell swoop, Steve Hansen’s side sealed the first Test while also physically demolishing the vaunted Lions scrum, sending the red pack back-pedaling before the instinctive skills of Kieran Read and Aaron Smith’s quick thinking set Rieko Ioane away in the left corner.

Sensational skills

The last edition of the Lions series was something of a damp squib. Australia were at the lowest of low ebbs and looked a busted flush by the time the third Test cam around. Thanks to a refreshingly sensible team selection from Gatland, today’s opening Test started like a match that deserved to be billed as having the best players on display.

Some of the skills on show under the highest pressure were phenomenal. It began with audible gasps from around Eden Park as Beauden Barrett dipped to make scooping up a bouncing ball under pressure from Conor Murray with little or no cover look like a doddle.

Kieran Read celebrates with Beauden Barrett after Rieko Ioane scored their third try Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Anthony Watson replied with a physical feat; a supreme vertical leap to pluck a cross-field kick out of the air and deny the hosts an early sniff. And the Lions weren’t done, they made sure to show their own attacking skill-set, never more so than the step from Liam Williams and Elliott Daly in the lead-up to that terrific Sean O’Brien try.

Once it comes down to a contest of skills though, there is no team in the world that can match the All Blacks.

The Lions sleep tonight, and punished for it

You can talk and talk about playing for 80 minutes and not slacking off for a second. But it’s not quite that easy when you’re playing at a high tempo against the world champions. that’s what happened for the opening try of the series and then the game-clinching score.

Aaron Smith celebrates Rieko Ioane scoring their second try Source: Photosport/Marty Melville/INPHO

The Lions pack were ready for a breather and Aaron Smith couldn’t quite believe how much time he had to quick tap and spin wide for Codie Taylor to finish with more sublime skill to lift a very poor Israel Dagg pass off his laces.

That’s where they get you, the narrow cracks in resolve and attention that they manage to exploit even if you think you’re matching them blow for blow.

In the second half, Smith again tore up what is an accepted convention of European rugby, ignoring his forward-marching scrum to spin it wide and invite more offloads before young Ioane dotted down a debut try.

The Rieko case

Speaking of the Kiwi hero, he’s quick eh?

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Today’s double try-scorer went to the Olympic Games as a 19-year-old last summer and just turned 20 in March, yet he has faced up to the Lions three times in less than two weeks after torturing Jack Nowell for the Blues before a tough night with the Maori.

The younger brother of powerful back row Akira, Ioane’s inclusion was a massive call for Hansen as it came at the expense of ‘The Bus’ Julian Savea who, at 26 years old, is just three tries off Doug Howlett as the ABs’ record try-scorer.

Rieko Ioane scores their second try Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

His power will surely be put to use at some point in the next two Tests (or maybe he’ll be allowed play for the Hurricanes on Tuesday), but he will have to dig deep after seeing the value of raw pace from Ioane. First, the wing dotted down a terrific one-hand finish in the left corner, but it was his second try that was perhaps even more devastating as he utterly torched Daly (who is certainly no slouch) to put a bow on top of the icing of this New Zealand win.

As always, big Tests bring big concussion concern

If Ben Smith was an amateur, the protocols around concussion would have kept him from playing rugby today. But as a professional, his return is allowed to be much, much quicker. The fullback was removed in the first half and, as long as his medics declare him symptom free, he can return to play again next Saturday.

Ben Smith goes off for a concussion test Source: Photosport/Peter Meecham/INPHO

The worrying aspect is, it’s three weeks since Smith smashed his face off the ground in Christchurch, temporarily knocking himself out before walking off to fail a HIA. And that wasn’t even his worst impact of the season. In February he landed on his head and was sidelined for a solid period of recovery, but at times the brilliant Highlander wasn’t even able to go to training, let alone take any part.

Smith has just turned 31, he has had in the region of five concussions in the last five years. He is a sublime player to watch, a supreme example of how to do every simple thing well, but we hope he doesn’t re-appear in black for some time.

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Brilliant Ioane on the double as All Blacks move into series lead over Lions

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Sean Farrell

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