Tonga v ABs 1No complacency, little sentiment, plenty of respect. —Kieran Read, All Black captain, before the game.

Plenty of entertainment

By Roger Childs

It was full house at Hamilton’s FMG stadium and half the Tongan population of Auckland had travelled south down the highways to the Wakato. They cheered and yelled, waved their flags and held up their signs – one said One try please Tonga! The wish was granted when close to full time captain Siale Piutau crashed over near the posts.

Tonga v ABs 2The crowd were treated to a fast, open game and the All Blacks cut plenty of capers to score 14 tries in the 92-7 victory. In two weeks they will play South Africa in their opening match of the World Cup in Yokohama. However, was this easy win against a second tier rugby nation worth the effort?

A very useful workout

It was a valuable run for the All Blacks. They needed another test match after the fine win over the Wallabies two weeks ago. In particular –

  • Players who had come in for that match and played well, needed another run in the black jersey. The likes of wingers Sevu Reece and George Bridge, lock Patrick Tuipulotu and prop Nepo Laulala.
  • Ben Smith needed to regain his confidence with a game in his favoured position of full back.
  • Captain Kieran Read needed another test to continue his improvement after average games in the earlier matches against the Pumas and the Springboks.
  • Backups for injured players like hooker Codie Tayor and Josh Ioane needed to get match time.

Tonga v ABs 3The result was a highly committed effort from the 23 players who got on the field and no-one had a bad game.  Of course it’s easy to play well against weak competition, with a pack constantly going forward and plenty of ball for the backs and forwards to run with. Needless to say, in such a fast game with plenty of movement, everyone’s fitness was well tested and no-one was found wanting.

There were some outstanding performances – from Bridge on the left wing who scored four tries; Ardie Savea in the tight and the open, he’s man who never has a bad game; TJ Perenara who spun the ball quickly from scrums and rucks and was brilliant in backing up the ball carrier; Reece on the right wing who ran hard and was always looking for work, and Ben Smith back to his best in taking the high ball, adding the extra man out wide and running 80 metres for the first try.

Tonga v ABsIoane had his first test coming on in the second half and showed that he is a highly competent back-up for Riche Mo’hunga should the latter not fully recover from a shoulder injury before the World Cup. He did miss a tackle on Tongan winger Villiami Lolohea which almost resulted in a try, and he rushed one conversion. However, these were minor mistakes and overall he passed very well, injected pace in the backline, and kicked with skill and accuracy, including a superb drop out which allowed George Bridge to gather and score in the seventh second of the second half!

The All Blacks will play some second tier teams in the pool round of the World Cup and the work out against Tonga was excellent preparation for this.

Lessons for Tonga?

Playing top teams is always a learning experience. The Tongans need to play the way the All Blacks usually do. It’s best to

  • retain possession as much as possible
  • kick to give your players a chance to contest the ball when it comes down especially from drop-outs
  • get the ball out quickly to the fast men and avoid too much forward barging in mid-field
  • create extra men in the backline with doubling around and injections of pace from the full back or blind side winger
  • back up the ball carrier
  • be unpredictable and keep the opposition guessing about what you are going to do.

Despite the very one-sided score on Saturday, both sides will have benefited from the contest with the World Cup just a fortnight away.