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Advantage All Blacks as Lions are tamed

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 24/06/2017 Angelo Risso

In stark contrast to their reputation for champagne rugby, the All Blacks have drawn first blood in the three-Test British and Irish Lions series by playing "down and dirty", according to coach Steve Hansen.

The All Blacks took an early series advantage with an industrious 30-15 victory over the tourists on Saturday at Eden Park, earning the chance to wrap up the series in next Saturday's second Test in Wellington.

Enjoying all the early running and possession, the All Blacks looked likely to run away with the match, with the tourists struggling to assert their trademark dominance at the set-piece or create opportunities through first-five Owen Farrell.

But first-half injuries to Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty turned the Test on its head, as an emboldened Lions - against the script - threw the ball around enterprisingly and bagged a stunning Sean O'Brien length-of-the-field try.

Their upper hand continued into the second half, with the Lions just 13-8 down, until the match swung again via Rieko Ioane's clinical double.

Rhys Webb bagged a last-second Lions consolation.

It was far from a vintage All Blacks performance, with few of the flicks and tricks that drove them to last week's 78-0 thrashing of Samoa.

Hansen told reporters the performance was proof the All Blacks could find multiple ways to win - from razzle-dazzle to tactical nous and front-row muscle.

They'd also neutralised the Lions' much-vaunted line speed by playing astutely off halfback Aaron Smith, which tired their opponents.

The Lions made 165 tackles to the All Blacks' 97.

"I always find it amusing when everyone tells us they're going to beat us up in the tight five, because we're not just a team that can play flashy rugby. We can play down-and-dirty rugby too if we have to," Hansen said.

"Since Adam was a cowboy, if your tight five do a job, everyone else can play - tonight's Test was always going to be won in the tight five and I think we won that battle, but that doesn't guarantee we'll win it next week."

While the Lions failed to seize on their 20 minutes of ascendancy, the All Blacks ruthlessly took their opportunities.

Codie Taylor emulated incumbent No.2 Dane Coles by collecting a pass off his bootlaces to score the side's first five-pointer in the 18th minute, before freshly introduced props Wyatt Crockett and Charlie Faumuina helped create Ioane's first by monstering their counterparts at an attacking second-half scrum.

Ioane, in his first Test start, then capitalised on a Liam Williams dropped-ball to streak away and place the match beyond the Lions' reach.

They'll need to find a second attacking gear - and quickly - to turn the three-Test series around next week in Wellington.

Hansen expected that to be the case.

"So many times in sport, the winning team gets knocked over the next week. So, this team has always worked on the mantra that we want to be better, and we don't always achieve that but that's what we strive to do," Hansen said.

"The team executed the plan very, very well. It wasn't perfect but it is only our second Test for the year, so we'll build from that."

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