New Zealand's coach, Steve Hansen, saw his gamble on naming three debutants pay off as one, Julian Savea, scored three tries to propel the All Blacks past Ireland.
Hansen, a former Wales coach who spent eight years as an assistant to New Zealand's 2011 World Cup winner, Graham Henry, has stepped into arguably the most scrutinised rugby job. His brief is to balance the All Blacks' high standards with building a team capable of defending the Webb Ellis Cup in 2015.
The former police officer gave the wing Savea, the scrum-half Aaron Smith and the lock Brodie Retallick their debuts and they proved they could make the step up. But while Hansen praised the work of Retallick in the tight, Smith's passing and decision-making and Savea's tries, he reserved praise for the 12 men in the starting XV who were in the World Cup winning squad.
"The thing that pleased me the most of all was not the debutants, but the leaders in the team and our senior players," Hansen said. "They could have easily come in and been comfortable and all week they have displayed enthusiasm, excitement and a commitment to get the job done and they led the way. We started the week with one purpose, to have a performance we would be proud of, and we have to be proud of what we did."
The All Blacks' captain, Richie McCaw, had warned his public the team would not be perfect. They were far from that. There were dropped passes and knock-ons, intercepted passes and a lack of accuracy at the breakdown. The defensive screen that guided them to their 8-7 World Cup final win over France, however, was virtually impenetrable.
Ireland's try came when the hooker Rory Best gathered a loose ball from a charge-down and with every All Black up in the attacking line, the fly-half Jonathan Sexton kicked for the winger Fergus McFadden to score.
The Irish were keen to move the ball, often running from deep. But the All Blacks kept driving them back in the tackle and when Ireland did kick, there were plenty of black jersies to run it back.
Savea's first try came when he was given an overlap down the left. His second typified the match. Ireland had been on the attack but aggressive defence from Conrad Smith and McCaw forced a turnover and three passes and a kick later, the All Blacks had a line-out five metres out. Savea smashed through Cian Healy and Connor Murray.
"They played well," said the Ireland captain, Brian O'Driscoll. "For a team that had not played since the World Cup final that was a good standard. They bring a real intensity and great tempo and try to keep the ball in play.
"Some of their scores we didn't help ourselves but they constructed a few as well. They were worthy winners."
New Zealand I Dagg; Z Guildford (both Hawke's Bay), C Smith (Wellington), SB Williams (Canterbury), J Savea (Wellington); D Carter (Canterbury), A Smith (Manawatu); T Woodcock (North Harbour), A Hore (Taranaki), O Franks (Canterbury), B Retallick (Hawke's Bay), S Whitelock (Canterbury), V Vito (Wellington), K Read, R McCaw (capt, both Canterbury). Replacements A Thomson (Otago) for Vito, 46; A Williams (Auckland) for Retallick, 52; B Smith (Otago) for Guildford, 52; P Weepu (Wellington) for A Smith, 56; H Elliott (Hawke's Bay) for Hore, 61; B Franks (Tasman) for O Franks, 61; A Cruden (Manawatu) for Savea, 63.
Ireland R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (capt, all Leinster), K Earls, S Zebo (both Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best, D Fitzpatrick, D Tuohy (all Ulster), D Ryan, P O'Mahony (both Munster), J Heaslip, S O'Brien (both Munster). Replacements R Loughney (Connacht) for Fitzpatrick, 55; R O'Gara (Munster) for Sexton, 57; E Reddan (Leinster) for Murray, 61; D O'Callaghan (Munster) for Tuohy, 61; K McLaughlin (Leinster) for O'Mahony, 61; S Cronin (Leinster) for Healy, 71; D Cave (Ulster) for Earls, 72.
Referee N Owens (Wales).
Tries: Savea 3, Thomson, C Smith
Cons: Carter 3
Pens: Carter 4
Pen: SextonReuse content