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

Warren Gatland’s tourists played some thrilling rugby but were second best at Eden Park.

New Zealand 30

Lions 15

Murray Kinsella reports from Eden Park, Auckland

THE LIONS HAD promised us they would play and Warren Gatland’s men stayed true to their word at Eden Park, but even one of the truly great tries – a length-of-the-pitch effort finished by Sean O’Brien – couldn’t fire them to victory.

Rieko Ioane scores their second try Ioane scored two tries on his first Test start. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

The tourists had the All Blacks worried for long periods of the game but they ultimately never managed to nudge their way in front on the scoreboard and push Steve Hansen’s side into panic mode.

Instead, the Kiwis were clinical in taking their chances, scoring tries through hooker Codie Taylor and brilliant 20-year-old left wing Rieko Ioane, who dotted down two on his first Test start.

While the Lions played attractive attacking rugby, with fullback Liam Williams and centre Jonathan Davies particularly outstanding, the All Blacks had the kind of tough edge that champion sides possess and they were good for the win that puts them in pole position to claim the series over the next two weekends.

There were positive points for the Lions to rally around ahead of the second Test in Wellington in a week’s time, but the All Blacks always looked like they had enough quality to score tries when they most needed to.

The Lions’ attacking game was at a new level with Gatland having backed Williams to start alongside the pacy Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson, while Ben Te’o delivered a muscular defensive performance in the midfield.

The controversial decision to back Alun Wyn Jones in the second row ahead of Maro Itoje proved a disappointment, with the powerful England lock offering far more when he came off the bench in the second half.

Owen Farrell and Ben Te’o tackle Sonny Bill Williams Ben Te'o was superb in defence for the Lions. Source: Photosport/Marty Melville/INPHO

Williams sparked some stunning passages of counter-attacking rugby for the Lions, including the sensational O’Brien try before half-time, which also involved Davies and Daly.

That try was taken wonderfully, but the Lions failed to capitalise in a clinical manner after other linebreaks – they had six in total – with Te’o's failure to pass wide to the right early in the second half proving particularly costly.

The All Blacks – though unafraid to play directly – were the more clinical team and all three of their finishes were a lesson for the Lions, as the Kiwis’ skills came up good under the defensive pressure.

Nonetheless, Gatland will be urging his players to focus on the positives and he will also feel that the All Blacks benefited from the performance of referee Jaco Peyper – with replacement out-half Johnny Sexton berating the match official at full time.

Even in that department the All Blacks deserve credit. They tested the limits of the laws with their kick escorting, ruck work, and release before turnovers, but it was simply a team playing the referee and it meant they came out on the right end of an 11-6 penalty count. One of a few work-ons for the Lions in the next week.

The first half saw the script flipped on its head as the All Blacks played confrontationally with aggressive ball-carrying and built long periods of pressure on the Lions, who kept themselves in the game with that sensational O’Brien try.

Elliot Daly with Ryan Crotty Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Lions almost had the perfect start to the game as Daly went close to scoring in the left corner following a superb Davies break in the second minute. The outside centre scorched through and passed back inside to Conor Murray, who would have scored but for a desperate tap tackle from Aaron Smith.

The Lions recycled and Daly had a glimmer of space in the left corner, but Israel Dagg pulled off a brilliant tackle to deny him, TMO George Ayoub confirming Daly had been dragged into touch.

Suitably awakened, the All Blacks took control of the game thereafter and Beauden Barrett got them off the mark with a 13th-minute penalty after Taulupe Faletau was caught offside during a multi-phase passage of high-tempo Kiwi attack in the Lions’ 22.

Their first try arrived three minutes later, stemming from a Brodie Retallick turnover near the half way line, which sparked another extended period of All Blacks’ possession, the likes of Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read hammering into their carries.

The Lions failed to roll away and it appeared that the hosts would shoot at goal with the penalty, only for Aaron Smith to quick-tap and find Barrett in midfield. The out-half fired a long skip pass to Dagg, who flung the ball wide right, where hooker Codie Taylor – having held his width with great discipline – picked the ball off his bootlaces wonderfully to finish past Daly.

Codie Taylor celebrates scoring their first try Codie Taylor celebrates for the All Blacks. Source: Photosport/Marty Melville/INPHO

Barrett converted and it looked deeply ominous for the Lions as they trailed 10-0, but Murray’s excellent box kicking was one source of optimism.

Owen Franks stupidly took out the Lions halfback at a ruck to allow the tourists to finally get on the scoreboard with half an hour gone, Owen Farrell converting the penalty just after the All Blacks had lost Ben Smith to concussion.

Centre Ryan Crotty followed him soon after, and the All Blacks looked unsettled with the changes in their backline, Barrett moving to fullback to accommodate the introduction of Aaron Cruden.

The replacement playmaker kicked deep into the Lions’ 22 in the 37th minute, and suddenly the Lions struck.

Williams stepped past the fast-advancing Kieran Read and then arced in between Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams to burst out of the Lions’ 22 in stunning fashion.

The Lions fullback was halted on the halfway line by Dagg but his offload found Davies, who hit Daly on the left wing to scorch past replacement Anton Lienert-Brown, before passing back inside to Davies.

Sean O'Brien scores their first try O'Brien dots down one of the all-time great Lions tries. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Now just metres from the Kiwi tryline, Davies was tackled by Barrett but again the Lions player freed his hands and there he found O’Brien thundering up on his right shoulder to take the ball and smash through the tackle attempt of Smith to finish a sensational try.

Farrell couldn’t convert, but the Lions were well and truly in the contest at 13-8 heading into the interval.

And Gatland’s men continued to live up their promise to play with flair early in the second half, with Williams sparking another counter attack from a Kiwi knock-on, sending Davies scampering through and into the All Blacks’ half, where he combined with Watson.

Sam Whitelock was pinged for offside after Hansen’s men had scrambled to prevent another stunning try – and after Te’o had spurned an overlap on the right to carry in midfield – and the Lions opted to kick into the corner rather than take a shot at goal.

But twice they were turned over – first in the five-metre maul and then again after O’Brien had wrestled the ball back for them – and the Kiwis breathed a sigh of relief.

Watson made another searing linebreak on a kick return initiated by Williams just a minute later, but the offload attempt to Murray went forward and the Kiwis again were let off the hook.

Liam Williams with Sonny Bill Williams William was sensational. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With the rain returning as we headed towards the 50-minute mark, Gatland sent in impact sub Itoje for the underperforming Jones, with tour captain Sam Warburton soon following – replacing captain Peter O’Mahony and taking on the leadership as he entered.

But it was a pair of Kiwi subs that made the more immediate impact, Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina massacring the Lions scrum, drawing a penalty advantage that they played off to devastating effect.

Read picked the ball and offloaded sublimely around Murray to Smith, who hit the hard-running Dagg to break the previously excellent Te’o's tackle and find Cruden, who in turn fired a skip pass to Ioane on the left touchline, the wing finishing one-handed on the dive.

Peyper went to the TMO to check Read had not knocked the ball on and though it initially appeared he had, Ayoub stated that the ball had come off his foot before moving forward and the try stood, with Barrett converting expertly.

Trailing 20-8 heading into the final quarter, Gatland sent Sexton on to combine with Farrell, the Englishman shifting out one to inside centre.

However, Sexton’s first major contribution was to stray offside as the All Blacks built more pressure five metres from the Lions’ tryline and Barrett punished him to the tune of three points, adding to the scale of the task for the Lions.

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

The Lions were beginning to creak and the All Blacks went to the corner in the 65th minute – opting against going for the posts – as the visitors’ penalty count continued to tick upwards, but then Itoje delivered.

The dynamic lock rose explosively in front of Retallick to steal Taylor’s throw, and the Kiwi hooker then threw crooked at the very next lineout – his last action of the game – after the Lions had exited from their 22.

Gatland’s men eked out a five-metre lineout of their own heading towards the final 10 minutes and with it came their final chance to claw back into the contest, but there was a collective malfunction as the All Blacks came away with the ball.

And that proved to be the last despairing effort, as Ioane bagged his second in the 71st minute, gathering the bouncing ball near the halfway line after Williams had dropped a Perenara kick under little pressure.

The freakish Blues wing showed his pace to scorch to the outside of the retreating Daly, skipping out of the English wing’s diving tackle attempt.

Barrett converted again to keep his 100% record off the tee intact, and though replacement scrum-half Rhys Webb sniped over for a clever try in the final minute, the Lions must focus on rescuing this series in Wellington.

The worrying thing for Gatland is that the All Blacks will only get better.

New Zealand scorers:

Tries: Codie Taylor, Rieko Ioane [2]

Conversions: Beauden Barrett [3 from 3]

Penalties: Beauden Barrett [3 from 3]

Lions scorers:

Tries: Sean O’Brien, Rhys Webb

Conversions: Owen Farrell [1 from 2]

Penalties: Owen Farrell [1 from 1]

NEW ZEALAND: Ben Smith (HIA – Aaron Cruden ’27); Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty (Anton Lienert-Brown ’33), Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith (TJ Perenara ’55); Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett ’54), Codie Taylor (Nathan Harris ’66), Owen Franks (Charlie Faumuina ’54); Brodie Retallick, Samuel Whitelock; Jerome Kaino (Ardie Savea ’47), Sam Cane, Kieran Read (captain) (Scott Barrett ’78).

LIONS: Liam Williams (Leigh Halfpenny ’72); Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te’o (Johnny Sexton ’57), Elliot Daly; Owen Farrell, Conor Murray (Rhys Webb ’58); Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath ’52), Jamie George (Ken Owens ’58), Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler ’60); Alun Wyn Jones (Maro Itoje ’48), George Kruis; Peter O’Mahony (captain) (Sam Warburton ’54), Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau.

Referee: Jaco Peyper [SARU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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