Ireland capitulated following a strong start and lost captain Johnny Sexton to injury as clinical New Zealand recorded an emphatic 42-19 first-Test victory in Auckland.
Keith Earls scored his 35th international try inside six minutes as Andy Farrell’s side flew out of the blocks at a sold-out Eden Park but things swiftly unravelled on a punishing evening.
Ardie Savea claimed two of the ruthless All Blacks’ six scores, with Jordie Barrett, Sevu Reece, Quinn Tupaea and debutant Pita Gus Sowakula also crossing.
Influential fly-half Sexton was forced off in the aftermath of Reece’s breakaway try and later failed a head injury assessment to compound a miserable outing.
Ireland, who made the scoreline more respectable thanks to second-half scores from Garry Ringrose and New Zealand-born Bundee Aki, paid a heavy price for repeated defensive lapses and face an uphill task to salvage the series.
Victory for the physical hosts avenged November’s 29-20 defeat in Dublin and maintained their impressive 28-year unbeaten run in a stadium which has become a fortress.
Ireland head coach Farrell also saw Joey Carbery and Josh Van Der Flier each denied certain tries by superb interventions from All Blacks centre Rieko Ioane.
The Englishman must quickly galvanise his dispirited squad ahead of next week’s meeting in Dunedin, for which he is likely to be without Sexton.
New Zealand returned to action having had more than seven months to stew on successive defeats at the end of autumn, including the reverse at the Aviva Stadium.
Their preparation for the opener was severely disrupted by Covid-19 but head coach Ian Foster recovered sufficiently to attend the game, while the virus forced a late change on the Irish bench as a positive test for prop Finlay Bealham gave an opportunity to Tom O’Toole.
Ireland were looking to move on from a midweek mauling at the hands of the Maori All Blacks.
Munster wing Earls was the only player retained from the experimental XV selected in Hamilton and he got the tourists off to a dream start by finishing an outstanding team try after being teed up by Hugo Keenan at the end of patient, sustained pressure.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) July 2, 2022
Ireland’s ferocious beginning exposed a few nerves among the under-pressure hosts, who briefly looked panicky amid a temporarily silenced stadium.
But it was short-lived and the All Blacks hit back with their first attack of the game as full-back Barrett bulldozed over and then landed the first of six successful conversions.
The early pattern of play, with Ireland the greater threat, initially resumed before Farrell’s men were heavily punished for sloppiness in attack to firmly shift the momentum.
As the visitors worked the ball from right to left, a poor pass from Ringrose dropped ahead of James Lowe, allowing the rapid Reece to zoom clear from inside his own 22 and dive over.
Irish frustration at the manner of that try was immediately heightened by captain Johnny Sexton being forced off having slipped and collided with Kiwi captain Sam Cane in the build-up.
And New Zealand promptly took the game away from their stunned opponents.
Tupaea raced on to a perfectly-weighted kick from Beauden Barrett to cross, before Aaron Smith’s delightful chip and chase culminated in Savea diving on to the loose ball as the dispersed Irish defence floundered.
The 28-5 half-time scoreline left Ireland with a mountain a climb.
Ringrose atoned for his first-half error by touching down in the left corner four minutes after the restart, with Sexton’s deputy, Carbery, nailing the tricky conversion.
Yet scant hopes of an unlikely comeback were almost certainly extinguished as further defensive dithering allowed Savea in for his second score of the match, before the Irish were twice thwarted by Ioane’s try-saving tackles.
After All Blacks replacement Sowakula capped a memorable maiden outing by diving underneath the posts, Ireland centre and native Kiwi Aki had the final say as Ireland did at least finish on a minor high following a better second-half showing.
However, there is significant of room for improvement when the Irish resume their quest for a first Test win on New Zealand soil in seven days’ time.