An afternoon of free-scoring high numbers for the All Blacks against Tonga in Hamilton has finished with the most significant for them as they prepare to board a plane for the Rugby World Cup in Japan: zero obvious injuries.
That by itself will allow coach Steve Hansen to rest a lot easier over the next couple of nights before Monday’s flight because, with five players missing this warm-up match against Tonga due to niggling injuries, another more serious one to any of his match-day 23 would have been distressing for all concerned.
Just as important was the conclusion to an incident in the final minutes in which replacement fullback Jordie Barrett collided with Tongan outside back James Faiva when contesting a high ball, an act which sent Faiva tumbling forwards to land on his upper back.
It was a potential act of foul play checked by referee Angus Gardner and his assistants, but fortunately for Barrett, the officials decided he had collided with teammate Sevu Reece after being in a position to compete for the ball. It was accidental, in other words, and no foul play.
Another red card for a Barrett after Scott’s indiscretion in Perth would have sent Hansen and company into a royal funk.
As it was, it will be Tonga who will have the most to mull over following this because the match was as one-sided as it gets, the All Blacks playing the final 15 minutes with 14 men after second-five Ryan Crotty went off – thankfully uninjured – and there was no one on the reserves bench to replace him.
It was presumably a planned move – a practice for the possibility of being a man down at the World Cup – and if it was a mercy-rule type arrangement from the All Blacks’ coaches then so much the better, for this was a bit ugly at times for the men in red, who played with 14 themselves for 10 minutes after lock Sam Lousi was sinbinned for a no-arms tackle on replacement first-five Josh Ioane.
Starting in the eighth minute when Sevu Reece stood up Tonga midfielder and skipper Siale Piutau to score the All Blacks’ first try after eight minutes, it was a cruel demolition which may have helped with both teams’ fitness but it would presumably have done little for Tonga’s morale a day out from their flight to Japan.
The home side scored eight tries in the first half for a 54-0 halftime lead – their second highest first-half points total in a test behind the 84 they scored in the first 40 minutes against Japan in the 1995 World Cup.
From there it was a race for other records, with George Bridge scoring four and getting close to Marc Ellis’ record of six in a match in that same test against Japan, won 145-17 by the All Blacks.
Under bright sun at Waikato Stadium in front of a crowd of 23,443 enjoying a pre-season type atmosphere, the All Blacks scored 14 tries in total, the only scares coming when replacement prop Angus Ta’avao received treatment on an ankle injury before continuing and then Jordie Barrett’s unfortunate collision.
Not surprisingly, the All Blacks were on a different level to Tonga for most of the match. After 30 minutes they hadn’t missed a tackle and they missed only one in total in the first half.
Replacement first-five Ioane enjoyed his first time on the field for the All Blacks after replacing Beauden Barrett at halftime and Ioane’s first act was to send the re-start into Bridge’s hands for another try.
Ardie Savea was impressive as usual, as were his loose forward colleagues Kieran Read and Matt Todd. Crotty, who scored two tries, made a welcome return from a broken thumb and looked sharp, as did fullback Ben Smith.
It was always going to be a matter of by how many rather than if, but the All Blacks impressed with their focus and control. This was a valuable exercise for them. For Tonga, perhaps not so much.
All Blacks 92 (George Bridge 4, Ben Smith 2, Ryan Crotty 2, Sevu Reece, Codie Taylor, Kieran Read, TJ Perenara, Matt Todd, Ardie Savea tries; Beauden Barrett 7 cons, Josh Ioane 4 cons)
Tonga 7 (Siale Piutau try; Sonatane Takulua con)
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