WELL PLAYED: The All Blacks pay tribute to the defeated Namibians, who harried and hassled the world champions for the full 80 minutes
LONDON, 24 Sept - Outclassed, overpowered but lacking absolutely nothing in skill and heart, Namibia’s mix of journeymen pros and committed amateurs provided magnificent resistance, highlighted by the most memorable try in their nation’s rugby history against New Zealand in a 58-14 defeat at the Olympic Stadium.
The All Blacks ran in nine tries, headed by a double each from their wings, man-of-the-match Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea, but any fear of an embarrassing mismatch between the world champions and a team featuring eight part-timers in their squad was quashed by the underdogs’ organisation and formidable commitment, headed by their roaring flankers, captain Jacques Burger and Tinus du Plessis.
And ten minutes after the interval, nobody in the 50,000 road will forget the moment when, after turning down the chance of a kickable penalty, Namibia kicked for the corner and from the lineout, produced a sensational drive, launched by their hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld and finished by centre Johan Deysel, who smashed through three tacklers to plough across the line.
It was no more than Namibia, who have never won a World Cup match in 16 attempts, deserved on an evening when their passion contributed much to the champions producing plenty of ragged work amid the tries from Milner-Skudder (2), Savea (2), Victor Vito, Malakai Fekitoa, Beauden Barrett, who scored 16 points, Ben Smith, and Codie Taylor.
Namibia’s calm fly-half Theuns Kotze, meanwhile, kicked three out of four shots at goal as they picked up a wholly unlikely 14 points.
What Namibia needed most was to avoid an early capitulation. Instead, number eight Victor Vito was freed to crash over in the corner within six minutes and when Milner-Skudder, with a neat step, danced through for a second after 10 minutes, things looked grim for the tournament’s lowest-ranked team.
Yet when Burger tied up New Zealand’s new young captain for a night, Sam Cane, earning a penalty and Bourg-en-Bresse stand-off Kotze converted from distance, the stadium erupted in sheer delight.
Moments of brilliance mixed with sloppiness followed from the All Blacks but Sonny Bill Williams demonstrated his unique gifts, first with an angled break and offload which put in centre partner Malakai Fekitoa and then, on the stroke of half-time, another silky break and pass to coax another excellent finish out of his roommate Milner-Skudder.
In between, Barrett had made one searing break to cut past Burger and through the midfield and go under the posts as the All Blacks went in 34-6 ahead at half-time.
Kotze’s excellent marksmanship saw him convert a third penalty after the break, following more excellent work at the breakdown from Tinus du Plessis but it was after Julian Savea barged through the middle for his first international try since last November that Deysel scored the try he will never forget.
After Jaco Engels was sent to the sin-bin for cynically knocking the ball from replacement Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s hands, Namibia paid as Ben Smith quickly shot over in the corner.
Burger departed after 65 minutes following a wonderful captain’s knock - he and du Plessis made 27 tackles between them - with Namibia wanting to save him for games against Tonga and Georga they believe they can win before Savea and Taylor finished a harder night’s work than New Zealand could reasonably have expected as they finally topped the 50-point mark.