All Blacks vs Ireland: Exactly what the doctor ordered

National angst over what many predicted would be the end of the All Black’s winning streak at Eden Park took mere seconds to dissipate.

To be more precise, that was the time it took Sevu Reece to pick up the ball from his own 22 and run away to score a try that put the All Blacks ahead 14-5 in a test that they would end up winning comfortably by 42-19.

All Blacks winger Sevu Reece crosses the finish line to score a try against Ireland.
Photo: PhotoSport / Brett Phibbs

Until then, it seemed like all nightmares about what this Irish team brought with them on this tour were coming true. They had scored an excellent opening try through Keith Earls and dominated territory and possession. In short, it looked like they had picked up exactly where they left off when the two sides last met in Dublin.

It’s not fair to single out the gift Reece received as the defining point of the whole match – there are a few – but it certainly seemed to turn the Irish into a different team. The problem for them was that the team they turned into had more spectators than participants for the remaining 10 minutes of the first half.

That might explain why so many simply watched when Jamison Gibson-Park inexplicably tried to throw the ball himself at a defensive lineout. The chilly air between the Irish half and his prop quickly filled with black shirts, the ball was returned and Beauden Barrett’s brilliance did the rest. His ground kick for Quinn Tupaea was spot on all of a sudden it was a three point game and feeling like one of those tests from back when all the All Blacks had to do was to withstand an early Irish onslaught and it would end up being a comfortable victory.

That’s exactly what it was. While there’s a lot to love about the Irish business, especially the bonding game between their forwards, the game was staged as a contest much, much earlier than even the most optimistic All Black fan. wouldn’t have thought.

Ardie Savea’s two tries got the crowd on their feet, with his second on nothing more than half a gap from 40 yards out. Sky TV certainly got its money’s worth for its 4K camera, with the number eight placing a trademark dive right in front for a very aesthetically pleasing shot.

While the rest of the scoring was academic, there were a few incidents that are worth noting, as it’s fair to say that the Irish and Northern Hemisphere media have already done it themselves.

The change in Irish fortunes in the first half coincided with Johnny Sexton leaving the pitch, victim of what appeared to be an unfortunate but unintended contact to the head by Sam Cane. Sexton had a very good game up to that point, so it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the Irish cause about it.

Then, later in the second half, the All Blacks’ most publicized selection made a play that will probably be talked about all week. Scott Barrett, whose inclusion on the blind side had done exactly what it was supposed to do in terms of solidifying the All Black set piece (especially the scrum), charged into a ruck and appeared to have made contact with the head of Peter O’Mahony.

Was it legal? It certainly didn’t look like it back then and doesn’t get any better with repeated viewing, especially since Barrett is no stranger to discipline issues. If he is somehow modernized by the judiciary to warrant a suspension, serious questions must be asked about the rulebook Barrett has read, if there is one.

But even if he is sidelined, there were enough shows last night to now regard this tour as a potentially mind-boggling few weeks for the Irish, rather than a searing chance to create history. The scoreline was just a few points off the last time they played at Eden Park 10 years ago, the start of a run they lost 3-0.

To all credit: the All Blacks have forgotten all their misfortunes of the last year and have started again in style.

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