All Blacks wing Julian Savea scored a hat-trick on debut to help the world champs to a comprehensive 42-10 win over Ireland.
All Blacks wing Julian Savea scored a hat-trick on debut to help the world champions to a comprehensive 42-10 win over Ireland at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
The talented speedster crossed twice in the first half and again after the break to cap a memorable night in his first Test outing for New Zealand, as the home side opened their 2012 account with a bang.
The win also saw the All Blacks extend their winning run at Eden Park to 28 Tests, dating back to 1994.
The visitors were outscored five tries to one, and based on this quality performance from the hosts, it looks like Ireland will have to wait a little longer for that elusive victory over the men in black.
Whilst the scoreline resembles one-way traffic, it took a while for New Zealand to click into a gear as the Irish threatened to give the home side a run for their money early on – Rob Kearney in particular impressing with ball in hand.
But with the scores level 3-3 after fly-halves Dan Carter and Jonathan Sexton traded penalties between them, the All Blacks started to find some rhythm.
Carter, who produced a near flawless display from the tee, added two more penalties from 50m out to stretch his side's lead to 9-3 before Savea struck with his first try in the 25th minute and New Zealand never looked back.
Ireland kicked away possession, not for the first time, and Zac Guildford got away with a fumble that saw the ball roll sideways. From there, the All Blacks were able to send it wide to Conrad Smith, who switched with Sonny Bill Williams. The inside centre made one of his trademark one-hand offloads to Carter and he sent Savea away for his first Test try.
Carter converted from bang in front, and the writing was on the wall for Ireland as Savea was once again the man of the moment after crossing over out wide for try number two just before half-time.
Carter was on target once again with the touchline conversion to give the All Blacks a deserved 23-3 lead at half-time, leaving Ireland with a hill to climb after the break.
The hill became a mountain after Savea was celebrating his hat-trick three minutes into the second half. The Hurricanes flyer had Israel Dagg to thank after the full-back drew in the cover defence – following some good interplay between Conrad Smith and Kieran Read in midfield – to put Savea over in the corner.
Carter raised the flags to make it 30-3 and the result was all but sealed. That was until the Irish finally hit back through a try by Fergus McFadden who, after a turnover, chased a kick ahead from Sexton and beat Richie McCaw to the ball for a seven-pointer.
With Ireland now in double figures, the green army of supporters were given a glimmer of hope. However, it wouldn't last long as normal activity resumed shortly after when Read broke away from the back of a 5m scrum and gave the try-scoring pass to replacement Adam Thomson.
Both teams rang the changes with 20 minutes remaining and Ireland weathered another spell of pressure from the home team and looked to have clawed themselves back into a respectable position when McFadden outsprinted Dagg 80 metres to score under the posts. But referee Nigel Owens had already called back play for an Irish offside.
There was further reason for Irish hearts to flutter in the final minutes as loosehead prop Cian Healy was injured and replaced by hooker Sean Cronin.
Conrad Smith was then rewarded for a fantastic performance when he dived over to the right of the posts after a slick pass from replacement Aaron Cruden. Carter added the extras to make it a 32-point buffer and give the Irish plenty to ponder ahead of next week's second Test in Christchurch.
Man of the match: For Ireland, Sean O'Brien and Rory Best were the pick of the forwards while Rob Kearney was a pillar of strength at the back. New Zealand number eight Kieran Read proved why he's rated the best in his position, while Carter was his influential self at 10 – finishing with a match haul of 17 points. Scrum-half Aaron Smith produced an outstanding debut with his rapid service keeping the backline moving, but wing Julian Savea gets our vote. A constant threat out wide, the 21-year-old made history by becoming the first All Black to get a hat-trick against Ireland in only his first Test appearance.
Moment of the match: Even though there were six tries scored in all, we've opted for Savea's bone-crunching hit on Kearney that proved New Zealand's hat-trick hero is no slouch on defence either.
Villain of the match: No cards, but the Irish got out of jail a few times when holding back All Black players on the attack.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Savea 3, Thomson, C Smith
Cons: Carter 4
Pens: Carter 3
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll (c), 12 Keith Earls, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 Donnacha Ryan, 4 Dan Touhy, 3 Declan Fitzpatrick, 2 Rory Best, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Ronan Loughney, 18 Donncha O'Callaghan, 19 Kevin McLaughlin, 20 Eoin Reddan, 21 Ronan O'Gara, 22 Darren Cave.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)