This was a game out of rugby’s past, success being founded on the efforts of rugged interplay with a determined Lions pack, and it was the superior handling and running skills of the All Blacks side that spelled the difference between the hemispheres.
Complementing the on-field action was some outstanding interplay between the match officials that was crisp, clear and quick and contributed to the overall quality of the Test.
Coming into the game with such high hopes the Lions were left deflated; unable to prevent fast ball for the All Blacks at the ruck, unable to gain anything like scrum dominance and unable to make any impression with their rush defence.
Compounding what at stages was a game effort full of some outstanding running was the propensity for conceding penalties, many of them unnecessary concessions which only made life difficult for themselves. By comparison, the All Blacks only conceded one penalty within goal-kicking range.
Even with the unsettling transition caused by first five-eighths Beauden Barrett, who had a fine night with his boot landing six goals from six, having to move back to fullback when Ben Smith was concussed failed to unsettle the All Blacks. There was a period when the Lions upped their tempo but handling mistakes under pressure and a lack of quick support cost them dearly and the All Blacks defence proved sound.
Skipper Kieran Read had a superb 77 minutes earning a standing ovation when substituted. He was powerful on the break and solid on the tackle but nothing matched his 54th minute pick-up from a scrum which rocked the Lions. As he got control of the ball he slipped a pass to halfback Aaron Smith.
Smith found Aaron Dagg who lobbed a pass to Cruden and gave left wing Rieko Ioane the pass to race in at the corner to move the score out to 20-8.
Ioane was in again after following a box kick delivered by TJ Perenara. The Lions failed to cover it and Ioane gained control of the loose ball before putting his speed to use to outpace Daly and run in the try.
The Lions had such high hopes for No.8 Toby Faletau but he was outplayed by Read and as a result halfback Conor Murray was unable to wield his expected influence.
If the forwards made a notable contribution so too did the hard-running second five-eighths Sonny Bill Williams who was a handful in getting through a power of work while Barrett, when playing at five-eighths was unafraid to take the ball to the line consistently to help break down the Lions’ defences.
The Lions had first strike when from a ruck when first five-eighths Owen Farrell found centre Jonathan Davies in the second row of runners and he took a gap to link with Murray. He was desperately tackled short of the line by covering defence and when the Lions moved it to the left wing Elliot Daly and he charged at the corner but was unable to ground the ball in wing Israel Dagg’s tackle. From the lineout, the Lions were off-side.
After an unsuccessful sortie to the left flank where Anthony Watson got up to take Barrett’s cross-kick, the All Blacks won a penalty which Barrett goaled.
They returned the ball back downfield from the re-start with some strong running with lock Brodie Retallick, prop Joe Moody and loose forwards Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino and Sam Cane all looking to tie up Lions tacklers and eventually the pressure told, especially at the high speed the All Blacks were playing at.
When another penalty was conceded by the Lions, halfback Smith took a tap and passed to Barrett, who threw a long ball to Dagg and his long pass found hooker Codie Taylor patrolling the right flank.
New Zealand lost Ben Smith to a concussion test after 26 minutes with Aaron Cruden replacing him. Then when Barrett kicked a 33rd minute penalty goal, centre Ryan Crotty was replaced by Anton Lienert-Brown when suffering a leg injury.
That set the stage for a superb Lions riposte off a deep kick into their territory. Fullback Liam Williams ran into wide open spaces and looked to have lost support before Davies appeared in the line. He interpassed with Daly who did an in-out before sending it back to Davies who fed flanker Sean O’Brien in for a 35th minute try.
New Zealand went to the break having enjoyed 62 percent possession and having made six clean breaks to three from the Lions. By the end of the game they had maintained 61 percent ball. The Lions had been forced to make 97 tackles to 165 by the All Blacks while the turnover count favoured the All Blacks 10-5. The rucks favoured the All Blacks 127-72.
The second half started in a helter-skelter fashion with the Lions making some scything runs mainly orchestrated by Williams with Davies and right-wing Anthony Watson cutting loose and only being stopped by some desperate All Blacks defence.
Substitute halfback Rhys Webb gained a late consolation for the Lions with a last-minute try.
It was compelling action and the best Test played in New Zealand for some years.
Scorers: New Zealand 30 (Codie Taylor, Rieko Ioane 2 tries; Beauden Barrett 3 con, 3pen ) British & Irish Lions 15 (Sean O’Brien, Rhys Webb tries; Owen Farrell con, pen). HT: 13-8