Auckland -Rieko Ioane grabbed a second half try double as the All Blacks steamrollered the British and Irish Lions 30-15 on Saturday to leave the visitors on the brink of yet another series defeat.
The 20-year-old wing justified his surprise pick ahead of the prolific Julian Savea, handing New Zealand complete control against a Lions side which had been expected to run them close.
It was a match that confounded stereotypes as the All Blacks employed a direct, forwards-based game and the Lions produced a superb running try, finished off by flank Sean O'Brien.
The world champions turned 13-8 ahead after an absorbing first half but they took charge in the second period, in which the Lions' lone score was Rhys Webb's try at the death.
It leaves the Lions, who have not won a series in New Zealand since 1971, with much to ponder heading into the second of three Tests next week in Wellington.
"No excuse in terms of the result," Gatland said. "The All Blacks were very direct, better than us at the breakdown and we missed opportunities - all things we can fix.
"We created chances and shifted the ball pretty well. They didn't come out and play champagne rugby, they were very direct off nine.
"We were looking to get the upper hand up front, but in fairness to them they got it today."
After a fevered build-up to the game, which All Blacks coach Steve Hansen compared to a World Cup final, Beauden Barrett's early penalty and hooker Codie Taylor's try, after he plucked a pass off his shoelaces, put New Zealand 10-0 up.
They were struggling to build on their 13-8 half-time lead before Ioane, cashing in on some demolition work by the powerful All Blacks pack, exploded into action.
"It was a bloody tough Test match. Certainly that first half had everything - both teams throwing the ball around, two bloody good sides," said All Blacks captain Kieran Read.
"That's one (win)," he added. "We'll go back to the drawing board on Monday. Nothing's been earned yet so we will work harder next week."
Twelve years since the Lions were 'blackwashed' 3-0 on their last visit to New Zealand, the game turned on a brutal scrum by the All Blacks.
It led to Ioane's first try on 55 minutes, and the second came when the All Blacks forwards secured turnover ball.
Scrum-half TJ Perenara, taking a leaf from the playbook of his Lions opposite number Conor Murray, put in a box kick which Ioane gathered and raced away to score.
Murray's own box kicks, which caused the All Blacks much discomfort in the opening 30 minutes, faded as the Lions pack started to wilt.
The three-tries-to-two victory kept alive the All Blacks' phenomenal record, with 47 wins in a row on home soil since 2009 and no defeats at Eden Park since 1994.
But it was a brutal, bloody encounter. The All Blacks lost both fullback Ben Smith (concussion) and outside centre Ryan Crotty (hamstring) in the first 30 minutes.
After being on the back foot for the first 10 minutes, the All Blacks gave the Lions a taste of their own medicine with a series of charges through the middle which had the tourists scrambling before they eventually conceded a penalty, which Barrett converted.
Five minutes later, from a repeat of the same, direct approach, the All Blacks won another penalty close to the Lions line.
While the Lions switched off, expecting a shot at goal, the All Blacks took a quick tap which resulted in Taylor's try in the corner.
After an exchange of penalties by Owen Farrell and Barrett the Lions launched their running game with a counter-attack by Liam Williams inside his own 22 which caught the All Blacks off guard.
He offloaded to Jonathan Davies who took play deep into All Blacks territory, where the ever-present O'Brien finished off a brilliant move.
In a torrid second half in the rain, the game broke open with Ioane's tries on 55 and 70 minutes, before Webb's late consolation effort for the visitors.
Tries: Rieko Ioane (2), Codie Taylor
Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3)
Penalties: Barrett (3)
Tries: Sean O'Brien, Rhys Webb
Conversion: Owen Farrell
15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
British & Irish Lions
15 Liam Williams (Scarlets/WAL), 14 Anthony Watson (Bath/ENG), 13 Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/WAL), 12 Ben Te'o (Worcester/ENG), 11 Elliot Daly (Wasps/ENG), 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens/ENG), 9 Conor Murray (Munster/IRL), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Bath/ENG), 7 Sean O'Brien (Leinster/IRL), 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain - Munster/IRL), 5 George Kruis (Saracens/ENG), 4 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/WAL), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/IRL), 2 Jamie George (Saracens/ENG), 1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens/ ENG)
Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Scarlets/WAL), 17 Jack McGrath (Leinster/IRL), 18 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins/ENG), 19 Maro Itoje (Saracens/ ENG), 20 Sam Warburton (Cardiff/WAL), 21 Rhys Webb (Ospreys/WAL), 22 Johnny Sexton (Leinster/IRL), 23 Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon/WAL)