The All Blacks, hosts of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and favourites to lift the William Webb Ellis in their own back yard, got off to the best possible of starts by completing a strong 41-10 win over Tonga in the curtain-raiser, played at Auckland on the evening of Friday 8th September 2011.
The hosts raced away to a 29-0 lead, courtesy of tries from Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui, who both scored twice, an early Dan Carter penalty, and three conversions. Morath prevented a complete first half white-wash, however, by knocking over a late penalty on the stroke of half time.
In the second period, New Zealand, with the match won, eased their foot off the gas a little, allowing Tonga to claim a converted Taumalolo try, but were more than strong enough to add a further 12 points of their own, as Kainu and Nonu added their names to the score-sheet, with Carter converting one from those two scores.
The story of the match was New Zealand’s far superior finishing power, as Tonga claimed the most possession by a hair’s breadth – with 51% of the ball – and, in actual fact, spent more time in opposing territory than their hosts, but found the Black wall too difficult to break down time and again. When the All Blacks did have possession, they were ruthless, and got return on investment from most of their moves in what was an impressive opening fixture.
New Zealand will be a little disappointed that Alisona Taumalolo was able to prevent a shut-out in the second half, either side of strong home tries from Kainu and Nonu, but it would be hopeful in the extreme were the other teams competing in this year’s World Cup to read anything into what was never going to be anything more than a consolation try. The show had already taken place in a devastating first 40 minutes of World Cup rugby union. It was done and dusted.
Make no mistake, though, Tonga are not whipping boys, and this was something of a whipping – at least on the score-board, where it matters. Tonga will win at this World Cup and, as opening games go, this was far from a walk-over.
New Zealand’s victory is every bit as impressive as 41-10 sounds.
The feeling after this match is simple: there are chinks in the All Black armour, but they are minute, and it remains to be seen which, if any, other nation at RWC 2011 has the weapons to expose them.
As a result of recent history, the foremost question, unfortunately for the hosts, still looms: does the biggest threat to them lifting the Rugby World Cup on 23rd October lurk within the All Black mentality? On this evening’s evidence, the answer, enigmatically as ever, is “maybe” – but, after this stamp of quality, its an increasingly small “maybe”.