Don’t know much about sports but doesn’t the All Blacks – Tonga game seem almost cruel? –Henry Cooke, Stuff political reporter
Tough on the Tongans
By Roger Childs
The score was 102 – 0 but Tonga had to field a seriously under-strength team. Some of their best men remained in Europe as it was not feasible or logical for them to fly to New Zealand for a single match and have to go through the quarantine process. So 13 players had their first test on Saturday night at Mt Smart Stadium.
One has to wonder whether the match should have been played at all, especially as the All Blacks would have been expected to comfortably beat a full strength Tongan team. There is the argument that the visitors would have learned a lot from playing one of the world’s best teams, but one suspects the proud Tongans would have been utterly depressed after the huge loss. They never stopped trying, but always looked like a team that had been cobbled together very recently with little chance to practice together and develop combinations.
Value for the All Blacks?
Possibly. The coaches were able to try some different combinations and give new players in the squad a taste of test rugby. Consequently half back Finlay Christie, loose forward Ethan Blackadder, prop George Bower and second five Quinn Tupaea got a run against the Tongans.
As expected the All Blacks played the running game from the start and ran up four tries in the first twelve minutes. They always seemed to have an extra man on the left flank and a number of tries were scored on this side of the field. As expected the home team dominated scrums and lineouts and also had the edge in rucks and mauls. There was plenty of slick passing and speedy running in the backs, and right winger Will Jordan picked up five tries – just one short of the world test record.
It was good to see Beauden Barrett back from Japan at first five in the second half and he quickly showed class with a trade mark kick over the opposition backs which was regathered and led to yet another try. Of the newcomers Blues half back Christie was probably the pick with quick passing from the base of the scrum and some excellent breaks in mid-field.
Like so many teams playing stronger opposition they often kicked away good ball and dropped out too deep meaning that the All Blacks received good ball without any pressure. Their defensive lines were often poor with the result that the home team frequently had an extra man in the outside backs which often led to tries being scored.
The Tongans looked much better later in the game when they retained possession and trusted their backs to run with the ball.
However on balance the game was a waste of time for the Pacific Islanders and not great for team morale.
The All Blacks now have two tests against Fiji as prelude to the first Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in early August. The selectors will be able to further experiment with combinations and firm up on a strong team to play the Four Nations competition.