New Zealand winger Rieko Ioane scored two tries as the All Blacks faced down a spirited British and Irish Lions challenge 30-15 at Eden Park on Saturday to take a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series.
The world champions produced a performance of real grit and character to subdue a Lions surge around half-time before racing away to extend their winning streak at their spiritual home to 38 Tests going back to 1994.
Hooker Codie Taylor also crossed for the home side, while flyhalf Beauden Barrett had a perfect evening from the kicking tee with three penalties and three conversions.
“We had to work hard for that, I guess momentum changed a few times in that game and we had to scramble really well and take our opportunities,” said All Blacks skipper Kieran Read.
“I thought it was hell of a Test match … it was two pretty skillful teams working very hard for each other.”
The tourists scored the best try of the night through flanker Sean O’Brien and got a late consolation effort from replacement scrumhalf Rhys Webb with Owen Farrell chipping in with a penalty and a conversion.
The Lions made enough linebreaks to head to next week’s second Test in Wellington confident they can score against the All Blacks but know they will have to cut down on the errors if they want to win a first series in New Zealand since 1971.
“I think we left a couple out there,” said Lions skipper Peter O’Mahony.
“I thought we put them under pressure at times. There’s a huge amount to be played for now down in Wellington.”
The first of the linebreaks could have secured the Lions the opening try in the first two minutes but winger Elliot Daly was bundled into touch after centre Jonathan Davies had stormed through the All Blacks midfield.
Barrett scored the first three points from a penalty after 14 minutes, though, and four minutes later the All Blacks caught the Lions napping with a quick tap from a second.
The home side moved the ball quickly down the line to Taylor out on the wing and the hooker picked it off his boot laces to score.
Barrett sent the conversion sailing through the posts and the All Blacks were 10-0 in front, their nerves settled and any hopes the tourists had of catching them cold gone.
Farrell and Barrett traded penalties around the half hour mark before the Lions wrested back the momentum with a try from the least promising of circumstances.
Fullback Liam Williams was forced to run the ball out of defence but the field opened up for him and he was able to offload to Davies, who exchanged passes with Daly before getting the ball to O’Brien for the flanker to touch down.
It was a breathtaking riposte to those who doubted the ability of the tourists to create try-scoring chances and even though Farrell missed the conversion, the Lions went in at halftime 13-8 down but with heads held high.
Another searing break down the left four minutes after the break spoke of the confidence now surging through the Lions and when the All Blacks were penalised close to the line, they elected to kick for the corner.
The first chants of “Lions! Lions! Lions!” echoed around the ground but an effective counter-shove from the All Blacks prevented the pushover try and the hosts worked their way out of trouble.
The All Blacks had lost fullback Ben Smith and centre Ryan Crotty to injury in the first half but it was the strategic swap of both props after 50 minutes that triggered the next score.
The Lions pack simply disintegrated at a scrum on their own 22 and Read picked up to feed the backline with Ioane touching down in the corner in the 55th minute.
Referee Jaco Peyper checked that Read had not knocked on and Barrett added the extras to give the All Blacks a 20-8 lead, which he extended with his third penalty on the hour mark.
The Lions kept coming but the All Blacks now looked to be in the groove and when Williams spilt the ball on his own 10-metre line 10 minutes from time, Ioane outpaced Daly down the left wing to score his third try in three Tests.