All Black fans have waited a long time to see their side innovate – since November last year, when they looked unable to penetrate defences – and it was best seen in Ardie Savea's second try against Ireland.
Defence was the hero of the day for the All Blacks, but they introduced a new wrinkle to their attack. Aaron Smith's sweet passing was directed at ball carriers three out from the ruck. It's usual for the halfback to deliver the ball to a first receiver or second man out – the latter then with options: an inside ball, a wider pass or recycle the ball.
But once Leicester Fainga'anuku had made one of his muscular runs from first receiver after a lineout, Smith snapped a third receiver pass to flanker Scott Barrett, who set up the ruck. Smith again sent the ball three wide, cutting out two potential receivers, this time to Savea; he beat Garry Ringrose's tackle and two more defenders, stretched by the new play, on the way to a spectacular try.
The third man ploy unsettled Ireland's much-admired defence, almost as much as the renewed vigour shown by the All Black pack. It helped the All Blacks to play at the pace they love – and will be a focus for the Irish defence coaches between now and the second test.
Savea's try also highlighted how things went frustratingly wrong for Ireland and how international rugby can sometimes hinge on minor mishaps. The All Blacks were ahead only by 28-12 with Ireland scoring first in the second half and mounting something of a comeback. Big lock James Ryan slapped a lineout ball off Sam Whitelock, but it bounced into touch, allowed to do so by Kiwi-born halfback Jamison Gibson-Park, who mistakenly thought the All Blacks had last touched it.
From the ensuing All Black lineout, Savea took the catch, starting and finishing a try that broke the match open; Ireland weren't coming back from that.
Still, let's not kid ourselves too much, even though it's clear Ireland without the injured Johnny Sexton are not as good as with him. They will be far less likely to make the defensive slip-ups that saw two tries in six minutes to Quinn Tupaea and Sevu Reece's simple gather-and-score from a spilled pass, running away from Irish forwards.
They will need to work on their own attack; apart from the first 15 minutes, this time it was they who looked ineffectual in the face of stirring All Black defence.
From a New Zealand perspective, this test and series has already had some World Cup repercussions. The test can only be labelled as a triumph for Ian Foster and co, bedevilled as they were by Covid-19, preparation and selection issues.
The choice of Scott Barrett at No 6 headlined a team which seemed to be assembled by conservatives to ensure survival.
But Foster came up trumps; this win gives the All Blacks more options. Prop George Bower handled his world-class opponent in the scrums and demonstrated his mobility. Scott Barrett is by no means a world-class blindside but he defended hugely, his technique and discipline flawless, and his ball-carrying solidly effective.
Savea demonstrated why he simply can't be left out of this side while Pita Gus Sowakula's cameo and try gives more options if Savea is needed at 6 or 7. Beauden Barrett managed the game well and Tupaea probably sealed his place at 12 – his quick-hands pass to Fainga'anuku created one of the All Blacks' five tries.
Fainga'anuku's busy involvement, hard running and good ball security alerted Caleb Clarke that the left wing may not be in his sole possession. On the other side of the ledger, Codie Taylor may be under pressure for his starting position from Samisoni Taukeiaho.
It's a good problem for Foster – where or how to fit in those prevented from playing in the first test by Covid, injury or preference, like Clarke, Akira Ioane, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papalii (a bench appearance only this week) and Nepo Laulala, not to mention new All Blacks like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Aidan Ross, Folau Fakatava and Stephen Perofeta.
The series is by no means over – Ireland are too good to say that. However, thanks to this win, the rest of this series becomes a fascinating exercise rather than a funeral for some and a sudden dive into the deep end by those who have previously not swum much in test rugby waters.