All Blacks pass Fijian exam
July 22, 2011
All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu takes on Seremaia Bai
© Getty Images
New Zealand opened their account in Rugby World Cup year with a comfortable 60-14 victory over Fiji in the final Test at Carisbrook in Dunedin on Friday.
The All Blacks displayed plenty of ring-rust in their first run out of the season - a fundraiser for the ongoing Christchurch earthquake relief effort - but managed to avoid a similar fate to Australia, who were beaten last-weekend by a fired-up Samoan outfit.
Graham Henry handed a full debut to Colin Slade, the newly-anointed deputy to Dan Carter, and the Highlanders playmaker bagged one of his side's eight tries, with Sitiveni Sivivatu, Andrew Hore, Adam Thomson, Conrad Smith, Piri Weepu and Mils Muliaina also etching their names onto the scoresheet next to a late penalty try.
Fiji - who were denied the services of No.8 Sisa Koyamaibole and centre Seru Rabeni due to suspension and lock Leone Nakarawa thanks to his links with the Fijian army - were made to rue poor discipline and a weak scrummaging effort, although they provided plenty of food for thought in the second-half thanks to tries from the excellent Nemia Serelevu and replacement Vereniki Goneva.
Slade slotted an early penalty to settle his nerves but missed the conversion to the opening try, scored in the corner by Sivivatu on nine minutes. The Fijian-born wing was put into space by a quick wide pass from his fly-half and made no mistake against the outmatched cover defence.
The early phases of the game were blighted by repeated re-set scrums - with Fiji under pressure at the set-piece - and the All Blacks also failed to find their rhythm with ball in hand, Slade struggling to give his side direction in the face of some well-drilled defence from the Islanders.
Slade landed his second penalty after 20 minutes, with Fiji again failing to hold up their end of the bargain at a scrum, and bagged the All Blacks' second try with a moment of individual skill. The fly-half chipped in behind the advancing Fijian line and broke clear to regather the ball as it rebound off the post, also adding the simple conversion for an 18-0 lead.
Seremaia Bai missed his opening shot of the night for Fiji - pushing a long-range penalty to the right just after the half-hour mark - and the hosts needed no second invitation, scoring two further tries before the break to open up a commanding advantage.
The first went to Hore, who stepped inside the last man out wide following superb work from Sivivatu and another arching wide ball from Slade. The second was a forward effort rounded off by Highlanders flanker Thomson, who collected the ball after skipper Richie McCaw had gone close and powered over, with a little help from prop Wyatt Crockett.
Slade's conversion ended an opening period in which the All Blacks had slowly found their feet, but they were forced to scramble in the early moments of the second-half as Fiji discovered a spark.
Scrum-half Serelevu ripped the ball from Zac Guildford and showed great acceleration to take play into the All Blacks' 22. A series of penalties gave the Islanders further possession but they were unable to capitalise until another turnover gave blindside flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu the chance to stretch his legs. His superb charge along the touchline had the All Blacks clutching at air, with Serelevu on hand to round off the score under the sticks. Bai converted to make it 32-7 after 53 minutes.
The All Blacks rallied to restore parity to the possession stats but they were unable to unlock the Fijian defence for a time, with a sloppy pass from replacement scrum-half Weepu robbing them of an opportunity close to the line. The Hurricanes halfback atoned for his error with a moment of brilliance to create his side's fifth score however, with his audacious kick through capitalised on by Smith in the shadow of the posts.
Slade converted comfortably before Weepu took control once again, starting and finishing the All Blacks' sixth. Another well-judged kick put Muliaina into space, the fullback returning the ball to his scrum-half, who linked with replacement Ben Smith. A strong hand-off from the Highlanders utility back opened a gap and his offload found Weepu in support.
Dan Carter added the extras, having replaced Slade, but Fiji bit back immediately with a brilliant solo effort from Goneva. The replacement winger broke through a poor tackle by Smith and kicked ahead, where he impishly hacked the ball from Weepu's grasp before diving in to score.
The All Blacks' scrum then kicked up another gear by winning a penalty try from close range, with Muliaina putting the icing on the cake late on after Guildford had opened the gate thanks to an un-noticed knock-on.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales were just 13 minutes from a famous victory, but the lessons to be learned in defeat are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery