Lions tour: Steve Hansen gets it right as awesome All Blacks take the whip hand

Sonny Bill Williams popped up all over the park on Saturday.
GETTY IMAGES

Sonny Bill Williams popped up all over the park on Saturday.

ANALYSIS: It's all right New Zealand, Steve Hansen has got this. With just a little help from some special men in black.

The All Blacks coach has continued to reveal himself as a tactical, selectorial and motivational genius, masterminding a fabulous 30-15 first-test victory over the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park on Saturday night that has the New Zealanders in the box seat in this series.

It was a masterful display from the All Blacks, one of their very best test performances. It had to be too.

Kieran Read had an immense game after a long injury break.
DAVID GRAY/REUTERS

Kieran Read had an immense game after a long injury break.

The Lions created their share of angst. But, fuelled by a personal tour de force from skipper Kieran Read, who hadn't played since April 30, the New Zealanders both out-fought and out-thought the visitors throughout.

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Warren Gatland's Lions now have to win back-to-back tests, in Wellington and back at the Garden of Eden, against the No 1 side in the world to claim just their second ever series victory in New Zealand.

NZN VIDEO

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen outlines the injury situation after Saturday's test match against the Lions.

Much more likely is a second straight sweep (blackwash) by the hosts over the composite team, and a third in their last four visits.

The All Blacks have now won their last five straight tests against the Lions, and 12 of their last 13 matchups.

They call it a rivalry for the ages, but it is a very one-sided one for all the bluster and bravado that comes from the north each time they invade these shores.

Brodie Retallick on the charge for the All Blacks in their first-test victory over the British & Irish Lions.
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Brodie Retallick on the charge for the All Blacks in their first-test victory over the British & Irish Lions.

Read was magnificent, and his 98th test in the famous black jersey was one of his very best.

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He tore a page out of the Richie McCaw storybook when he shrugged off the rust, carried with unrelenting fury (a team-high 18), threw in some world-class touches (his scoop off the deck at scrum time that led to their second try was sensational) and led his men in the now time-honoured fashion.

But the All Blacks were quality all over the park, from the pack that won the all-important arm-wrestle, to Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane who were monsters on the carry, and at the breakdown, to Izzy Dagg, Sonny Bill Williams, the adaptable Beauden Barrett and Rieko Ioane who provided the cut and thrust out wide.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was a happy man after the test match.
DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was a happy man after the test match.

For some reason there are people who still doubt Hansen. There were brows furrowed when he brought in 20-year-old Ioane for Julian Savea on the left wing.

The Aucklander turned the match on its head in the second half with two tries, including a second few others in the game would have managed.

Others thought he was mad to pair Williams and Ryan Crotty in midfield, but they too were operating at full efficiency before the Cantab limped off with a pulled hammy just past the half-hour mark.

But as vital as the individual performances were the tactics. The All Blacks attacked that Lions rush defence where it was most vulnerable, off their halfback. Time and again the home forwards made the gain-line, dominating possession and territory.

That Lions suffocation never came. Just tackle, after tackle, after tackle (165 in all).

The New Zealanders weren't at their clinical best, but took their chances well, accumulated points and made their big move a quarter of an hour into the second spell, when the backup props shunted the Lions at scrum, and Ioane went over for a 20-8 lead.

From there a 47th straight home victory, and 38th on the bounce at Eden Park, was an inevitability.

Hansen on Sunday rated his team's performance "right up there", but added: "It's just a start. We've got a lot of work to do. They exposed us in a couple of areas: we didn't connect that well in our kick-chase and they challenged us at lineout time.

"Like us, they'll look at what they succeeded at doing and what they weren't able to. I thought they were non-abrasive at the breakdown, and allowed us to get the ball we needed to by not putting numbers in, because they wanted line-speed. Maybe they'll look at changing that.

"I thought we caught them completely by surprise by playing off 9, as opposed to 10, which we do lot of. So they'll look at that as well."

Hansen felt the Lions would be buoyed by their success moving ball from the back, and said they had to be prepared for more of that Liam Williams-Jonathan Davies-Anthony Watson attacking threat.

"We hold the advantage but they're going to have to chuck everything they've got at us to stay alive. It's going to be a massive game, but all these tests are going to be big," he added.

Change will be a necessity. Anton Lienert-Brown will slot in seamlessly for Crotty, though if Ben Smith's third head knock of the year proves problematic, Beauden Barrett could find himself at fullback from the off.

Israel Dagg and the recalled Damian McKenzie are other options.

 - Stuff

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