New Zealand see room for improvement
AUCKLAND, 10 Sept. - New Zealand have plenty to work on following their 41-10 win over Tonga, with coach Graham Henry giving his side five out of 10 for their performance at Eden Park on Friday.
"We played averagely at times and we played quite well at times,” Henry said. “There were some good things but we made too many mistakes and gave away too many penalties.
“There's plenty of work to be done.”
While Tonga pressed hard from the kick-off, New Zealand’s defence held firm while Henry’s new combination in the back three was quick to fire as the All Blacks found space out wide on both sides of the pitch.
With two tries apiece to full back Israel Dagg and wing Richard Kahui putting the home side ahead 29-3 at the break, the All Blacks looked primed to run rampant in the second half.
But Tonga returned to the pitch with renewed focus, slowing the ball to thwart the New Zealand attack with their aggressive tackling.
"We can scrum. We love contact and a physical game,” Tonga’s replacement prop Alisona Taumalolo said. “We have one of the best scrums in the world. I think we got out there and believed in ourselves."
As self-belief and multiple replacements held the Tongans firm, the change in pace forced the All Blacks down a gear and and they struggled to create gaps.
"They started to tie us up in the rucks and, when you're not getting that quick ball, the holes aren't there," Kahui said. "The second half was particularly frustrating because we didn't do what we set out to do.
“Some of that was that the Tongans fronted up and made it tough for us, and the other half we didn't switch on and went into cruise control.”
Tonga’s patient attack finally paid off after 71 minutes. Prop Taumalolo rewarded fans with a try after 10 minutes camped on the All Blacks line, when the Tongans repeatedly opted for a scrum instead of taking a penalty.
"I'm just really lucky to get that try," he said. "I hope there's more to come. It's special to me."
While Tonga’s second-ever try against New Zealand was the pinnacle of the match for the Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles), it proved the biggest blow for the All Blacks.
"It's disappointing they crossed the line,” captain Richie McCaw said. “I actually thought we defended pretty well for an extended period of time. It would have been nice to keep them from crossing our line."
Henry said the resetting of the scrums had been frustrating. "I don't think anybody enjoyed it, it was a boring part of the game and I'm sure people watching it at home would agree. The less repeats we have of this in this tournament the better."
Sonny Bill Williams, who made the most of his rare opportunity at inside centre to wreak havoc on the Tongan defence in the first half, saw the upside to the mixed performance.
"It was good getting a game like that out of the way now and not have it later in the tournament," he said. "It gives us something to build on."
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