New Zealand 42

Ireland 10

The scoreline was emphatic, the performance not quite so certain but the overall picture crystal-clear - the All Blacks have put the World Cup behind them and are on their way to conquering new summits.

If Ireland were ever a chance they didn't let on. They never got stuck into their assigned role of brave loser - a brief resistance in the opening 20 minutes was all they put down before they were swallowed whole.


There was a resigned quality to their work - almost as if they accepted barely a quarter of the way in that the All Blacks weren't really in a mood to be nervous, overwhelmed hosts. Generosity wasn't on show from the All Blacks: they left few areas for Ireland to exploit.

The lineout, so often a source of woe, was French-train efficient. The scrum battle belonged to the All Blacks, even if they didn't get the dominance they thought they might until later in the piece, and the collisions weren't particularly frantic, with both sides protecting their possession well enough.

The big gulf was in the ability to exploit mistakes. Ireland, used to the more pedestrian world of Northern Hemisphere rugby, got a sharp reminder that down here dropped ball can be a serious crime.

Anything loose and the All Blacks pounced - they were razor-sharp at shifting the ball into space from broken play. Innate rugby skills came to the fore and that alertness, willingness to go hard when half an opportunity presents is the kernel that will grow throughout the season.

Ball in hand, the athleticism and natural skills of the All Blacks were too much for Ireland and they just did not have answers on how to deal with the ball-running power of debutant wing Julian Savea.

The 21-year-old lost the ball with his first touch. He nearly snapped Rob Kearney in half with his second and his third, fourth and fifth significant acts in test rugby were scoring tries. A star was born and yet Savea couldn't steal the show from halfback Aaron Smith.

He's a precious find, this one; a welcome and curious throwback to a forgotten time and test football appears to be in his blood. His confidence was scarcely credible. There he was, all 82kg of him, surrounded by World Cup heroes and he barked his orders, shoved bodies out the way and took control. He collected kick-offs, kicked rather than passed with his first touch to fox everyone and swept the ball into willing runners' hands until he was replaced on 60 minutes.

The All Blacks could dance to a different beat with Smith at No9 and the decision to play him was driven as much by his ability to change the attacking parameters as it was his impressive form. He's a rare halfback in that he makes it to every ruck and fires a snappy wrist pass off the deck. With Smith there is no dillying. There is no dallying and the intention was clear - he and Sonny Bill Williams would form an intriguing offensive axis.


Just as he has for the Highlanders all year, Smith threw a number of lightning-fast bullet balls straight to No 12. Williams was ordered to bench any thoughts of subtlety and charge up the guts.

He was the All Blacks' midfield battering-ram and had his ball retention been better, it may have been a valid means of heading over the gainline and presenting options either side of the ruck. As it was he coughed up too much ball and the Irish stopped worrying about him so much.

When it all went right, the All Blacks had some secondary plays that were a further sign of their intent to add new dimensions to their attacking repertoire. The back three came from deep - they attacked with pace and purpose and will be lethal if they can refine the timing and accuracy.

Israel Dagg, so patchy and erratic with the Crusaders, came alive as he always does for the big occasion and wanted to be involved - his running game back to its best. Some of his kicks defied belief - a lazy swing of the leg and the ball was hurtling almost the length of the field.

He kept his wings in the picture, used them well, supported well and would have been buoyed for his performance but for one casual mistake when he passed to Zac Guildford early when faced with a simple two-on-one that should have brought a try on the stroke of half-time.

That he was good but a long way from perfect sums up opening night for the All Blacks.

New Zealand 42 (J. Savea 3, A. Thomson, C. Smith tries; D. Carter 3 pens, 4 cons) Ireland 10 (F. McFadden try; J. Sexton con, pen)