All Blacks outmuscle Lions, but sensational try cheers tourists
World champions take a 1-0 lead but a spirited Lions display leaves both sides with food for thought
New Zealand 30 Lions 15
The All Blacks overpowered a spirited Lions team in the first Test of the tour in Auckland, and eventually ran out comfortable winners in a match that simmered nicely but never quite came to the boil.
As they have so many times before New Zealand broke their opponents' will in the second half, but for the first hour the game was nip and tuck with the tourists' defence shackling the usually free-flowing Kiwis.
Unexpectedly, it was the All Black forwards rather than the quicksilver backs who tipped the balance and despite two tries for winger Reiko Ioane the game was won in the tight. Indeed for much of the game New Zealand were surprisingly conservative.
After a rousing Haka, the Lions almost got off to the perfect start with a line break from Jonathan Davies who fed Elliot Daly, but the winger was held up over the line.
New Zealand then took the lead through a Beauden Barrett penalty and went further ahead with the first try of the game. The Lions switched off at a penalty and scrum half Aaron Smith went quickly, flinging the ball wide. Hooker Codie Taylor popped up on the wing and plucked a poor pass from his shoelaces to score.
The sides traded penalties to make it 13-3 to the All Blacks before a moment of magic that will go down in Lions folklore as the tourists went the length of the field to score a try that New Zealand themselves would have been proud of.
Full back Liam Williams was the architect, taking a pass from Anthony Watson in his own 22, and brilliantly sidestepping Kieran Reid before beating two more men in a break to the halfway line. He then offloaded to Davies who in turn fed Daly. The England winger passed back to Davies who was tackled short of the line but popped the ball up to Sean O'Brien to touch down.
It was a thrilling passage of play that defined a high quality first half which ended 13-8 to the All Blacks.
The second half was a tense affair, and the Lions may regret kicking to the corner after being awarded a penalty. They failed to capitalise, and the gap remained at five points.
But as the half wore on the All Blacks gradually asserted more control, particularly at the breakdown. They scored the killer try when Read produced a sensational offload and the backs sprung into life and Ioane made it to the line.
Another penalty made it 23-8 leaving the Lions needing three scores. But it was the hosts who struck again when Liam Williams failed to collect a high kick and it fell to Ioane who outpaced both Daly and Watson to the line.
The tourists were now beaten but refused to capitulate as many teams do against the mighty All Blacks, and scrum-half Rhys Webb sniped through for a consolation score on the stroke of full time.
The scoreline may be chastening, but the tourists can take heart from their first half display, when they went toe-to-toe with the world champions. Among several others there was a notable performance from Ben Te'o, who nullified danger man Sonny Bill Williams, and it was not until the England centre went off that the All Black back line came to life.
Coach Warren Gatland has some issues to consider, however. Alun-Wyn Jones was subdued in the second row and was replaced early in the second period by Maro Itoje, while the dominance of the All Black pack was unsettling.
Key players also faded in the second half under the sheer weight of the defensive work they were forced to undertake.
He has a week to address those issues before the second Test in Wellington.