All Blacks overcome Lions in Eden Park showdown
Take a bow, Kieran Read. And a 1-0 series lead while you're at it.
Inspired by a performance for the ages from their magnificent captain, and a two-try strike from 20-year-old surprise selection Rieko Ioane, the All Blacks have delivered a masterclass to draw first blood against the British and Irish Lions at a seething, sold-out Eden Park.
The Lions offered plenty to a fabulous occasion, but once again Steve Hansen's men delivered a clinical lesson in converting opportunities into points, scoring three tries to two to prevail 30-15, and take the all-important first rubber in this three-test series.
On the back of just two and a-bit games of Super Rugby and nearly two months getting over a fractured thumb, Read evoked images of the great Richie McCaw at his best with a command 76-minute display that saw him at the thick of everything the All Blacks did well in an outstanding display.
Credit, too, to Ioane who rewarded his coach for the enormous faith he placed in him, by putting the Lions away with two wonderfully taken second-half tries.
From the first thunderous clap of Kapa o Pango to the final blast on the referee's whistle, this was an epic contest of the highest quality. Two magnificent teams stood toe to toe, and belted each other with their skill and pace for 80 scintillating minutes. And credit, too, referee Jaco Peyper, who contributed brilliantly to a free-flowing and entertaining test.
But only one team was able to keep their score ticking over, the New Zealanders easing clear after leading 13-8 at halftime, with only a late, consolation score to replacement halfback Rhys Webb making the margin vaguely respectable.
We had waited so long for this first test of the series – 12 years, and it seemed twice that – it almost defied belief that the opening exchanges might even have exceeded the hype and anticipation.
The Lions started with a roar, a break from the splendid Jonathan Davies and Conor Murray nearly putting Elliot Daly across wide on the left, the English wing only denied by a brilliant defensive play from Israel Dagg.
Crisis averted, the All Blacks then worked their way into the contest, with forwards Read, Jerome Kaino and Brodie Retallick to the fore as the hosts began to build pressure through possession.
Just minutes after Beauden Barrett had opened with a penalty, the All Blacks had the first try as well, with Aaron Smith quick-tapping, Dagg throwing the fast-hands cutout and hooker Codie Taylor across wide on the right, after the small matter of scooping the ball up at his feet. Barrett's sideline conversion had the New Zealanders out by 10-0.
But the Lions were not about to lie down, never mind that the All Blacks were building some ominous pressure through a mix of silky offloads and hard-charging runs.
After penalties were exchanged around the half-hour mark, Warren Gatland's men made arguably the biggest statement of their tour when they uncorked a breathtaking 80m breakout try sparked by the brilliance of Liam Williams, continued by Daly and Davies and then finished by tireless flanker Sean O'Brien.
Farrell couldn't convert, but after soaking up a ton of pressure the tourists would have been happy with a 13-8 halftime deficit.
The first 40 came at a cost for the All Blacks too, with Ben Smith (head knock) and Ryan Crotty (hamstring) both departing to injury, forcing Barrett to switch back to fullback. Crotty, at least, looks gone for the series.
The Lions started the second spell just as they opened the match, with Davies and Williams carving up, but the men in red unable to convert gilt-edged opportunities into points.
As they do, the All Blacks punished then a quarter of an hour in when, from a monster scrum, read's skill of the deck and then crisp hands from Dagg and Aaron Cruden put Rieko Ioane over for the try (his second in just three tests), and a 20-8 lead.
Barrett added his third penalty soon after and then Ioane then put the game on ice when he snaffled a Williams miscue on a TJ Perenara box kick and left Daly for dead on a 35m run to the line.
Read, of course, was not the only standout All Black. Kaino produced 46 quality minutes before making way for Ardie Savea, Retallick underlined his status as the world's best lock with a magnificent display and in the backs Dagg and Sonny Bill Williams deserved the honours for best on display, while Barrett's faultless goalkicking was a big part of this fine test victory.
The Lions offered plenty, especially Williams and Davies in the backs, but were a distant second in the end. They have a mountain of work to do to turn this round in just seven days.
All Blacks 30 (Codie Taylor, Rieko Ioane 2 tries; Beauden Barrett 3 pen, 3 con) British & Irish Lions 15 (Sean O'Brien, Rhys Webb tries; Owen Farrell pen, con). HT: 13-8.