Until then, it seemed like all the nightmares about what this Irish team was bringing with it on this tour were coming true. They’d scored an excellent opening try through Keith Earls and dominated territory and possession. In short, it looked like they’d picked up exactly where they left off when the two sides had last met in Dublin.
It isn’t right to single out the gift that Reece got as the defining point of the whole game – there are a few – but it certainly seemed to turn the Irish into a different team. The problem for them was, the team they turned into were more spectators than participants for the remaining 10 minutes of the first half.
It might explain why so many of them simply watched on when Jamison Gibson-Park inexplicably tried to run the ball himself off a defensive lineout drive. The fresh air between the Irish halfback and his support was quickly filled with black jerseys, the ball was turned over and Beauden Barrett’s brilliance did the rest. His kick along the floor for Quinn Tupaea was perfect, all of a sudden it was a three score game and feeling like one of those tests from back in the day when all the All Blacks had to do was withstand an early Irish onslaught and it would end up being a comfortable win.
Which is exactly what it was. While there was plenty to like about Ireland’s enterprise, especially the link play between their forwards, the game was done as a contest far, far earlier than even the most optimistic All Black fan would have thought.
Ardie Savea’s two tries got the crowd on their feet, with his second coming out of nothing more than a half gap 40 metres out. Sky TV certainly got their money’s worth for their 4K camera, with the number eight putting in a trademark dive right in front of it for a very aesthetically pleasing shot.
While the rest of the scoring was academic, there were a couple of incidents that are worth noting, because it’s fair to say the Irish and Northern Hemisphere media have already very much done so themselves.
The change in Irish fortunes in the first half did coincide with Johnny Sexton leaving the field, the victim of what looked to be an unfortunate but unintentional contact to the head by Sam Cane. Sexton was having a very good game up until that point, so it’s hard not to feel sympathy with the Irish cause on that one.
Then, later in the second half, the most talked about selection in the All Blacks made a play that is probably going to be talked about all week. Scott Barrett, whose inclusion at blindside had done exactly what it was supposed to in terms of solidifying the All Black set piece (in particular the scrum), charged into a ruck and looked to have made contact with Peter O’Mahony’s head.
Was this legal? It certainly didn’t look like it at the time and doesn’t get any better on repeat viewing, especially considering that Barrett is no stranger to discipline issues. If it is somehow retrofitted by the judiciary to warrant a suspension, some serious questions need to be asked about just what rule book Barrett has been reading, if there is one at all.
But even if he is sidelined, there was enough shown last night to now view this tour as a potentially soul-sapping few weeks for the Irish, rather than the red hot chance to create history. The scoreline was only a couple of points away from the last time they’d played at Eden Park 10 years ago, the start of a series they lost 3-0.
Credit where credit is due: the All Blacks forgot about all their woes last year and started afresh in style.