Winger Julian Savea scored three tries on debut as New Zealand beat Ireland 42-10 today in its first test since winning last year's World Cup.
The 21-year-old Savea touched down twice in the first half and once in the second, becoming the first All Black to score a hat trick against Ireland, as New Zealand ushered in the era of new head coach Steve Hansen with a win.
Hansen served 103 tests as an assistant to World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry and ensured on Saturday that New Zealand began the post-Henry era with an emphatic victory.
New Zealand has never lost to Ireland in 25 tests over 107 years and didn't look likely to give up that record in the first game of a three-test series.
Replacement flanker Adam Thomson and center Conrad Smith also scored tries for New Zealand and flyhalf Dan Carter, in his first test in more than eight months — since a groin injury ended his World Cup campaign — kicked 17 points. Carter landed his first six kicks at goal to extend his record tally of test points to 1267 from 86 matches.
New Zealand fielded three new caps on Saturday and all made a mark. Savea, the giant Wellington Hurricanes winger, terrorized the Irish defense at the end of a backline that functioned well despite testing new combinations after a long period of inactivity.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith made a confident debut at the base of that backline and 21-year-old lock Brodie Retallick produced an industrious 53 minutes before he was substituted.
While there were occasional breakdowns in the All Blacks' combinations, blowing a few clear tryscoring opportunities, they retained the look of a world champion team and were far too strong for Ireland. The Irish tried to match their open game, particularly through the first 25 minutes, but lacked players with pace or line-breaking ability and became vulnerable during their attempts.
New Zealand was able to maintain possession through multiple phases to stretch the Ireland defense but Ireland lacked that ability and rarely tested the All Blacks' defensive line. They hoped to at least match the All Blacks in set pieces but New Zealand packed a superior scrum and was well-drilled at lineouts.
The battle in the loose was one-sided as New Zealand out-muscled Ireland at the breakdown. There was no comparison in the backlines: the All Blacks had far more skill than Ireland could hope to muster and the tourists started to commit cynical professional fouls in a vain attempt to contain the scoreline.
"It was okay," New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said. "It's just a start really. At halftime it felt like we were alright on the scorebook but we probably didn't get the control we wanted at the breakdown and I thought it was a lot better in the second half.
"But it was very pleasing with how we started."
Ireland's only try came against the run of play in the 52nd minute when right winger Fergus McFadden won the race to a long clearing kick from flyhalf Jonathan Sexton who also kicked a conversion and a penalty.
New Zealand was typically skilled in turning counter-attacking opportunities into tries. Fullback Israel Dagg featured in two of Savea's tries and Carter played an adept passing game that opened fissures in the Ireland defense.
"Turnover ball is the best ball to get and we forced a couple of them and scored one try from counter-attacks," McCaw said. "But I thought we were a bit slow at times and got sucked into rucks when perhaps we should be covering numbers."
Carter succeeded with his first six of eight kicks at goal. He landed a penalty in the fourth minute for the first points of the match and, after Sexton had equalized two minutes later, kicked goals in the 15th and 17th minutes for a 9-3 lead.
Savea scored his first try in the 26th minute at the end of a flowing All Blacks counter-attack after Ireland had kicked too deep at a re-start. Right winger Zac Guildford and centers Smith and Sonny Bill Williams all made ground before Carter passed to Savea in space.
Savea scored his second try in the 38th minute when New Zealand attacked clinically off a clean lineout win. Scrumhalf Smith stretched the defense and Dagg drew the last defenders before passing to Savea who crashed through tackles near the left hand corner.
Dagg had the chance to create a further try before halftime but passed too early to Guildford after New Zealand had created a two-on-one overlap. The All Blacks still took a commanding 23-3 lead to halftime.
Savea added his third try in the fourth minute of the second half, again taking the last pass from Dagg after Williams had run strongly at the defense and Carter had created an overlap.
Thomson scored in the 55th minute after his backrow partner Keiran Read had run from the back of a five meter scrum and Smith added the last try in the 79th minute after an outstanding line break by Dagg.
Ireland ended the game bewildered, with no idea of how to match the All Blacks' pace and skill level.
"We started okay but in fairness to them they played with a very fast tempo and we didn't slow their ruck ball down enough," Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said. "When they're playing that way they're difficult to defend against, you're chasing shadows a bit.
"A huge amount to work on but we've got two more chances, two more cracks at it."
The second test is at Christchurch next Saturday.
New Zealand 42 (Julian Savea 3, Adam Thomson, Conrad Smith tries; Dan Carter 4 conversions, 3 penalties), Ireland 10 (Fergus McFadden try; Jonathan Sexton conversion, penalty). HT: 23-3.