New Zealand disarmed their critics by stifling a bright start by England to record a controlled 37-20 victory at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday
New Zealand disarmed their critics by stifling a bright start by England to record a controlled 37-20 victory at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday, running four tries past the disjointed tourists.
Knifes were sharpened across New Zealand following last week's lacklustre win over Ireland, but Graham Henry's troops managed to shake off the World Cup albatross with a display of unified mettle against the outclassed English.
But that's not to say the All Blacks are back to their best.
England, virtual orphans following the cruel dismissal of Brian Ashton, asked all the right questions in the opening exchanges, and two opportunist tries from debutant wing Topsy Ojo at the end of each half gave the final score a measure of respectability.
But belief fled from English hearts as soon as Conrad Smith crossed for the opening try of the game, and New Zealand wasted no time in applying the killer blows.
England now face an uncomfortable week ahead of the second Test, and questions of their temperament and leadership will abound. So let's kick off proceedings right here.
What sense is there of sending a team to New Zealand under the tutelage of a part-time coach?
Why pull Charlie Hodgson off the field for one missed tackle? Is he not a performer who feeds of the sort of confidence that only coaches can instil?
Why replace James Haskell just at the moment when he is finding his feet?
Why leave Mathew Tait on the bench when the game has broken up and the field is firm and dry?
Admittedly, Hodgson had a game to forget – the Test-phobic fly-half was targeted by New Zealand and fell like a sack of spuds – but it was obvious he had been sent in to the fray, not for the first time, without a coherent gameplan.
But none of this should distract from a fine – albeit bitty – response from the All Blacks following months of internal strife.
Their forwards – line-out apart – stood up to the stiff challenge England offered, and their backline simply ran rings around the opposition.
Mils Muliaina and Sitiveni Sivivatu followed Smith over for tries, and Dan Carter – the chief architect of England's destruction – added a fourth to finish with a personal haul of 22 points.
But England started with mean determination, chasing the kick-off hard and stripping the ball from All Blacks lock Ali Williams before launching a powerful drive for the line.
Richie McCaw came flying in from the side to concede the penalty but Olly Barkley, handed the kicking duties ahead of Hodgson, pushed his effort wide.
The All Blacks were targeting England's lightweight back three, with Mike Brown and David Strettle both taken out by big hits in the opening minutes.
But England were not rattled. Hodgson and then Barkley pushed New Zealand back into their own half with astute clearances and when Greg Somerville was penalised for not rolling away Barkley slotted the kick to put England ahead.
England's forwards were enjoying great success in the loose, with Haskell and Luck Narraway combining to win another turnover.
Richie McCaw pounced to tie up Haskell at the back of a scrum and Carter tied the scores with his first penalty shot.
But England were forcing mistakes from the All Blacks.
Hooker Andrew Hore fumbled inside his own 22 and New Zealand needed some desperate last-ditch defence from Jerome Kaino to halt Strettle dart for the corner.
McCaw was stripped of possession in the tackle and then received a warning from referee Nigel Owens after New Zealand were penalised again for not rolling away.
Barkley was gifted another simple shot at goal to push England ahead – but again it last only minutes.
Tom Palmer and Lee Mears failed to gather the restart cleanly and the All Blacks pounced, with Carter dabbing a neat grubber kick which Smith collected to score his seventh Test try.
Almost immediately, the swagger returned to New Zealand's game and England's hopes of matching the heroics of 1973 and 2002 suffered a hammer blow.
New Zealand scored 20 points in the space of 11 minutes to charge into a commanding lead just past the half hour.
The All Blacks signalled their intentions with razor-sharp attacks from Mils Muliaina and Smith before Carter converted a long-range penalty.
Sivivatu then shredded England's defence and supplied the offload for Carter to score next to the posts.
And to make matters worse, England then had Andy Sheridan sin-binned. The prop was then sent to cool off for 10 minutes after referee Owens lost patience with England at the breakdown and Carter landed the penalty to open a 23-6 lead.
Barkley then saw a long-range effort of his own drop below the crossbar and England were on the back foot again as Carter looked to prise open their defence again.
But this time Ojo, who had endured a forgettable debut, intercepted the offload and sprinted 80 metres to score in the corner.
Barkley slotted the conversion to drag England back within 10 points at the interval but they still had a mountain to climb.
Within seven minutes of the restart New Zealand were out of sight. First Ma'a Nonu, the explosive inside centre, swatted away Hodgson's weak tackle to send Muliaina over for the All Blacks' third try.
New Zealand were swarming onto any mistake and when Narraway failed to hold onto possession, they pounced with characteristic ruthlessness.
Carter and Nonu combined to feed Sivivatu who skipped past a stranded Strettle to score the fourth try as England began to lose shape and composure.
Hodgson was replaced after just 50 minutes with Jamie Noon introduced to try to steel up the midfield and Barkley switched to fly-half.
Barkley had his first kick charged down but received a let-off when replacement hooker Keven Mealamu knocked the ball on as he tried to scoop it up.
With half an hour remaining, Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care replaced Wigglesworth to make his Test debut and Joe Worsley took over from Haskell in the back row.
Carter thought he had broken clear for a fifth try but referee Nigel Owens called play back for a knock-on.
But England managed to keep New Zealand honest for the final quarter of the game and even finished with a flourish. Care injected some spark into their attacking play and, despite having three kicks blocked, Barkley was adventurous with the ball in hand.
Tindall escaped onto a loose ball and sprinted clear but he too was called back when the touch-judge ruled the ball had brushed the line before it was scooped back into play.
The Gloucester centre was then sent to the sin-bin after he killed a dangerous move down the right, leaving England to finish the game with just 14 men.
But it was the visitors through Ojo, a frustrated passenger for most of the game, who struck the next blow. He collecting a clever chip from Care to sprinted past Sione Lauaki and Sivivatu to score in the corner.
But it was too little too late, and New Zealand remain