A 41-10 win with the bonus point already earned in the first half, with both Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui scoring two tries in the first half is certainly a good way to open the Rugby World Cup, but failing to get too much going in the second half as Tonga finally found a way to waste some time with the ball and even score will probably get some worried minds in the New Zealand camp.
Backed by the opening ceremony and the packed Eden Park stadium, it took the All Blacks four minutes to put points on the scoreboard with a Dan Carter penalty. That loosened up the tense favorites, and the game started flowing. Sonny Bill Williams provided the flair and the freedom for the others with his flashy offloading style and ability to draw two Tongans on him every time he strode forward with the ball.
The All-Blacks were 29-3 ahead at half time, with Tonga hardly able to get some possession outside their own 22. The relentless New Zealand attack and efficient defending was just too much for them. More in the second half? Exactly the opposite.
Tonga finally got some possession going after a Dan Carter turnover, resulting in a long stretch of scrum after scrum after scrum, which the Tongan forwards seemed to really enjoy. Eventually it resulted with a Sona Taumalolo try, pretty much the only thing Tonga could have hoped to achieve in this game. For a moment there, it seemed to spark some sort of comeback attempt from Tonga, but the quality gaps were too big. Their inability to create anything that doesn’t involve pushing and scrumming led the game back to New Zealand.
Ma’a Nonu, who didn’t really stand out in the first half, showed some fancy footwork and speed scoring the final try of the game after great build up from Colin Slade, setting the final score at 41-10.
Graham Henry never looked too happy up in the box during the second half, and he didn’t really have too much to smile about. Still, as Richie McCaw put it after the match – they got the win, and despite the disappointing score line to some, the All Blacks got the convincing win and the bonus point with relative ease in the first half. Their inability to dominate as earlier in the second half? That’s just something they’ll have to improve for next time.
Usual favorites that crumble under pressure, setting the bar at lower than the highest standard might be a good thing for the All Blacks, considering the added pressure of hosting the tournament everyone expects them to win.