Hamilton, NEW ZEALAND – September 9, 2019: 12.45pm (Stuff); The All Blacks have signed off for the Rugby World CupÂ in stunning fashion, running riot in a 92-7 victory over Tonga in Hamilton on Saturday afternoon.
In a fixture fitted in toÂ bridge the gap between New Zealand’s last Bledisloe Cup hitout and their important opening pool game against South Africa in a fortnight, the legs were well and truly stretched by the home side, thanks to the plethora of long-range tries cantered in for.
In all, there were 14 of them, with George Bridge collecting four, as he made a very good fist of keeping the left-wing berth made vacant by an out-of-touch, and now slightly injured Rieko Ioane.
There also doubles to Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty – the formerÂ back in his accustomed home of fullback, and the latter at second-five on return atÂ from a broken thumb, as the men in black were in rampant mood, and even subbed off CrottyÂ with quarter of an hour remaining in order to practice for a 14-man situation in the weeks ahead.
The crowd ofÂ 23, 443 at FMG Stadium Waikato featured just patches of red, and the black wave were treated to a near-history-making effort by the hosts, who just fell short of eclipsing their 102-0 effort against the Tongans on the North Shore in 2000.
In the end, the stats made for ugly reading – the running metres 1,101 to 255, clean breaks 24-4, defenders beaten 35-9 and the Tongans tackling at 65 per cent should have been better.
AfterÂ SevuÂ Reece,Â CodieÂ Taylor, Kieran Read, TJÂ Perenara, Matt Todd and ArdieÂ Savea had also all got on the board, the visitors got a consolation effort in theÂ 77th minute to captain Siale Piutau, to leave them with at least something to smile about, as the All Blacks couldn’t add to their tally following Crotty’s replacing.
But before that, in the All Blacks’ first afternoon test on home soil since their 2011 World Cup clash against Canada in Wellington, it was all one-way traffic, and things looked ominous from the get-go, with their first two scrums solid and featuring good backline incisions off both.
Bridge missed an opportunity to open the scoring in the sixth minute when he grubbered ahead and was beaten to the ball, butÂ he certainly made amends big time, bagging three in the third quarter, combining nicely on a couple of occasions with debutant Josh Ioane – who replaced Barrett at halftime.
Things were by no means perfect after Reece crossed on eight minutes to open the account, withÂ a couple of untidy moments to follow – a close-range lineout ended in a lost ball in the maul, and soon after a ruck turnover, some awful speculative passes and a knock in front of the sticks in the hosts’ own half.
But when SaveaÂ forced a mighty turnover win and sentÂ Smith on a 60-metreÂ canter down the left touch in the 16th minute, the points began to flow.
Bridge failed to put away Barrett on his inside, but when Kieran Read, with a possible knock on call going in his favour, sent a nice ball just high enough over the top, Codie Taylor rolled over and it was 21-0Â after 21 minutes, and the only question was going to be if the home sideÂ could keep with the clock for the full 80.
A massive scrum shunt produced a win against the head, and despite Barrett kicking away possession, Bridge was soon diving in spectacular style in the left corner.
Three more followed before halftime, to make it 54-0,Â andÂ if Tonga thought the halftime break would stall any New Zealand momentum, that idea was swiftly kicked – literally -Â into the hands of Bridge, as, with his first touch in test footy, Ioane kicked off and had his left-wing flyer latch on and steam into the corner for his second.
After Matt Todd went over from a driving lineout maul, off the restart Reece expertly collected a cross-kick and Savea went on a sensational 50-metre run to score.
Then the action came on the other side of the field again, as Bridge notched his third and fourth in quick succession. Despite again missing support he produced a powerful barge to complete his hat-trick, then latched onto an Ioane grubber for number four.
A 61st minute yellow card to lock Sam LousiÂ for a no-arms high shot didn’t help the Tongan spirits.
â€‹When Crotty then burst through for his double with 15 minutes left the All Blacks wereÂ into the nineties and his replacing looked like the mercy rule was enforced.
AT A GLANCE
All Blacks 92Â (George Bridge 4, Ben Smith 2,Â RyanÂ Crotty 2,Â Sevu Reece, Codie Taylor, Kieran Read, TJ Perenara, Matt Todd, Ardie Savea tries; Beauden Barrett 7Â con, Josh IoaneÂ 4Â con)Â Tonga 7Â (Siale Piutau try; Sonatane Takulua con)Â HT:Â 54-0.