All Blacks 42
Julian Savea could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about.
A hat-trick on debut, the first three tries of tonight's match against Ireland, mixed with an impressive defensive display. It all seemed a bit easy for the 21-year-old who stands as tall as Jerome Kaino and almost hits as hard. What made it doubly special was the fact that this wasn't an Irish team which just fell over. The All Blacks had to work hard for their points, and Savea was often the man to benefit.
"I was just pleased to put on the jersey and represent my country. Hopefully I did it proud," he said.
He sure did. His first try came after 27 minutes and featured a counterattack involving Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Dan Carter, a move which swept 50m.
The second, 11 minutes later, was a simple miss pass from Israel Dagg when the All Blacks were hot on attack. The third, four minutes after halftime, came courtesy of Dagg again, the Irish defence getting sick of the sight of both of them.
The score threatened to blow out at 30-3, but the Irish kept scrapping and scored one themselves after 50 minutes when right wing Fergus McFadden outsprinted Richie McCaw to a Jonathan Sexton kick.
Adam Thomson, on at blindside flanker for Victor Vito who suffered a cut when clashing heads with Brian O'Driscoll, scored the next one from a 5m scrum.
A relative scoring hiatus followed until Conrad Smith ran a nice line on to an Aaron Cruden pass for a late seven-pointer, a testament to the Irish doggedness, as much as anything. They competed extremely well at scrum time considering the absence of tighthead prop Mike Ross, although injuries in the final minutes made the set piece non-contestable. They mostly made their tackles too, and showed plenty of attacking intent. Not bad for a team which won only two games in this year's Six Nations.
It wasn't a complete performance but there was plenty to be extremely happy about for Steve Hansen in his first game in charge of the world champions.
He paid credit to Savea and fellow debutants Aaron Smith and Brodie Retallick afterwards but added: "The senior players impressed me the most. All week they showed enthusiasm and commitment to get the job done, particularly the man sitting alongside me [Richie McCaw]."
The forwards in, particular, tore into their work with gusto. Their lineout was near perfect, although Andrew Hore got away with a blatant crooked throw first up, and the body height and intent at ruck time would have pleased the new boss.
Hansen and McCaw afterwards thought the breakdown was one area for improvement.
"The Irish put a lot of heat on in the breakdown and they were particularly good at it," McCaw said.
Lock Retallick got through a mountain of work in his first test. He has a long future ahead of him if he keeps this up - his physicality in the ruck and tackle would have made Brad Thorn's eyes water.
Kieran Read went hunting for work as always - he almost scored straight from the re-start to McFadden's try but was dragged down just short - and Vito showed he could be the man to fill Kaino's spot at blindside flanker.
Savea, though, was the star. He wasn't overawed in the slightest and his first-half hit on fullback Rob Kearney rightly drew gasps from the crowd.
Carter was a close second. His kicking, the subject of much discussion over the past few months, was almost impeccable - he missed only one for a haul of 17 points.
He kicked three progressively more difficult penalties in the first half. The opener was in front and at a handy range, the second in front but from 45m and the third, remarkably, on the halfway line near the left touchline. So much for a niggly groin.
Ireland looked good at times, especially in the first half, but they have a huge gulf to cross if they are going to earn their first win over the All Blacks on this three-test tour.
Defeated Ireland skipper O'Driscoll said of the home side: "They played well tonight. For a team that hasn't had an outing since the World Cup final it was a good showing but we probably helped a little bit with the tries we conceded."
Wing Simon Zebo, on debut, almost broke through in the first half when running from depth and the men in green deserved their try through McFadden. A lot of industry for not much reward.
All Blacks 42 ( Julian Savea 3, Adam Thomson, Conrad Smith; Dan Carter 3 pens, 3 cons)
Ireland 10 (Fergus McFadden try; Sexton pen, con)
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick