Rocked by an early Irish onslaught, the All Blacks have staged a superb recovery to score four first-half tries on the way to a 42-19 win over Ireland in the first match of a three-Test series.
Ireland had the All Blacks at sixes and sevens with the intensity of their performance in the first quarter at Eden Park.
They rattled the All Blacks with the first try of the match to veteran winger Keith Earls after only six minutes and had the New Zealand team mostly in retreat.
The Irish start had All Blacks fans fearing a repeat of New Zealand’s losses to Ireland in three of their past five meetings, including the most recent in Dublin last year.
But the match was transformed in the 21st minute when the All Blacks scored their first try through fullback Jordie Barrett to seize a 7-5 lead against the run of play.
Winger Sevu Reece dashed 80 metres for an intercept try in the 30th and Ireland suddenly was thrown onto the back foot.
New Zealand’s resurgence turned around a critical moment in the match when Ireland’s talismanic captain Johnny Sexton left the field for a head injury assessment and didn’t return.
Ireland seemed shaken by the loss of Sexton’s composed presence and New Zealand ran in tries to centre Quinn Tupaea and backrower Ardie Savea to lead 28-5 at halftime.
Ireland also scored the first try of the second half through Garry Ringrose.
New Zealand rallied again, this time with far more composure and concerted purpose.
“It’s always challenging coming in with just 10 days preparation,” New Zealand captain Sam Cane said.
“On the game, we were good in patches and we’ve got a lot to work on.”
Even in defeat, Ireland might have found the seeds of a future victory in the two Tests remaining in the series.
“We lost our way a little coming into halftime but I thought we regrouped really well. Overall I thought it was a great Test match,” said Peter O’Mahony who finished as Ireland captain.
Head coach Andy Farrell said Sexton could be available for next weekend’s second Test.
The 36-year-old satisfied a post-match assessment and will undergo further tests to determine whether he can feature in Dunedin on Saturday.
“Johnny is good, he is in fine spirits,” said Farrell. “HIA (head injury assessment) two is passed, HIA three will hopefully be passed in a few days. If that happens, it’s concussion not confirmed.”