Brave Blossoms no match for All Blacks
HAMILTON, 16 Sept. - No Richie McCaw, no Israel Dagg, no Mils Muliaina, no Dan Carter - and no worries for the All Blacks.
Despite not starting four of their most potent attacking players, New Zealand produced a try-fest to overrun Japan 83-7 at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Friday.
The All Blacks ran in six first-half tries and added another seven in the second to inflict the first real blowout of Rugby World Cup 2011.
Left wing Richard Kahui scored a try in each half to take his tournament tally to four from the matches against Tonga and Japan.
Despite New Zealand's dominance on the scoreboard, it was their defensive work early in the match that set up the overwhelming victory.
Japan constantly ran into the All Blacks' solid defensive wall every time they tried to get across the advantage line.
The All Blacks snuffed out the Brave Blossoms' quick ball movement, making 31 tackles in the first half and not missing one.
On the back of that defence, the All Blacks were lethal in attack, repeatedly punching holes in the Japanese line.
"We got better, started slowly. We were better than last week (against Tonga). We played with better structure, and I was pleased with that," said All Blacks coach Graham Henry.
Japan's Kiwi coach John Kirwan said his team needed to replicate the All Blacks' tenacious defending.
"Obviously we are disappointed with the scoreline. I think in the first half we missed 13 tackles, and if you miss one tackle against the All Blacks you could lose the game," he said.
Japan seemed overwhelmed by the occasion and struggled to control the little possession they had, but Kirwan believes it was a good learning experience for his young players.
"They will really learn from that experience. For a young team such as Japan, it's a huge psychological challenge," he said.
Man of the match Ma'a Nonu was almost unstoppable, scoring a try, offloading for two others and constantly harassing Japan's defensive line.
However, the inside centre said there are plenty of positives Japan can take from the match, despite the lopsided result.
"They play a good tempo and they are getting better and better," Nonu said. "They are coached well."
Fly half Colin Slade, whose 23 points is the most scored by a player in an RWC 2011 match, said the All Blacks stuck to their pre-game plan.
"We talked about playing a faster style game so that the forwards had to give us a fast, clean ball. I think they did that, which made myself and (scrum half) Andy Ellis's job pretty easy," he said.
However, Slade admitted he needs to improve from an individual viewpoint.
"There were some errors in there that perhaps Dan (Carter) wouldn't have made. But I'm still learning and I'm a young guy," he said.
Crowd favourite Sonny Bill Williams came off the bench at the start of the second half and scored two tries.
"He (Williams) certainly made a statement, didn't he? When he came on he had a positive performance. He certainly got the selectors thinking," said All Blacks coach Henry.
Stand-in New Zealand skipper Keven Mealamu, whose 30th-minute try was the first by a captain at RWC 2011, said his team's next match against France on Saturday, 24 September, will be the biggest test in the pool stage.
"We have some talented boys who can play in different positions and we're building smoothly, but next week is a big step up," he said.
The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Japanese wing Hirotoki Onozawa, who ran in his team's only try on 58 minutes when intercepting an attempted offload from fly half Slade.
"I just happened to be there," he said. "They were up by quite a bit at that point, so I thought (the interception) may have been the only way to get back at them."
The Brave Blossoms' next game will be against Tonga at Northland Events Centre in Whangarei on Wednesday, 21 September.
Japan coach Kirwan: "Our next two games (against Tonga and Canada) are very important. Our World Cup starts now," he said.
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