Israel Dagg has promised the All Blacks are going to come back even stronger when they face the British & Irish Lions for the second Test in Wellington next Saturday, writes Simon Lewis.
New Zealand wing Dagg helped his side to a resounding 30-15 victory in the series opener as his side preserved an unbeaten record at Auckland's Eden Park dating back to 1994.
It was only the world champions' second game of the year following a 78-0 drubbing of Samoa at the same stadium eight days' previously but Steve Hansen's proved they are not the best team on the planet for nothing as they outclassed the Lions at the breakdown and set-piece and were more clinical in the final third.
Yet when Dagg was asked whether his side will be better next week's Wellington Test, where the All Blacks can wrap up the series with a game to spare, the Crusaders back said: "One hundred per cent. When we think we’ve made it, that’s when we’re going to get tipped up. We’ve got to recover, go over our game and do our review and Monday we’re back into it just trying to get better every day."
"They’re going to get better with another week together," he said of the Lions, "they’re going to get a lot better. For us, we’ve got to keep working on our combinations and our game plan, and hopefully get better."
There was plenty of praise in the home camp for captain Kieran Read, who made light of his seven-week lay-off with a broken thumb to put in a towering 77-minute performance at No.8, highlighted by a wonderful pick up off the base of a dominant scrum to feed Aaron Smith in the move that led to Rieko Ioane's second and the All Blacks' third and final try of the game.
"He was really good, he's had a lot of time to train and prepare and it looks like he's made the most of that time, come out and nailed it," lighthead prop Owen Franks said while scrum--half Smith described his skipper simply as a freak.
"Outstanding. I came off pretty early (on 56 minutes), I was pretty bad and he didn’t come off until probably he didn’t need to come off but got an eight-minute rest and is probably grumpy about that. He was outstanding and led from the front. An incredible leader."
As good as New Zealand were, even the All Blacks were purring over the Lions' opening try, a sublime, sweeping end-to-end score in a breathless opening half begun in his own 22 by full-back Liam Williams, who broke 30 metres upfield in a move finished by Sean O'Brien.
"When they can score tries like that first one, you're thinking they should probably do that more often," head coach Hansen said. "That's one of the best Test tries I've ever seen."
Dagg agreed with his boss, adding: "I was pretty blown away by it to be honest, it was pretty razzly but that’s what they can do."
"Liam is a great quality player, I have a lot if respect for Liam Williams. He plays like he’s playing in the back yard, just sees it and decides to go and does it. He tore us to bits and that’s what he can do."