All Blacks crack a hundred: Why this was a sad state of rugby affairs

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 4 Jul 2021, 9:19AM
Will Jordan scored five tries against Tonga. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Will Jordan scored five tries against Tonga. (Photo / NZ Herald)

All Blacks crack a hundred: Why this was a sad state of rugby affairs

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 4 Jul 2021, 9:19AM

All Blacks 102 Tonga 0

The many thousands who stayed away from Mt Smart Stadium knew what was coming; a one-sided exercise – calling it a test seems contradictory on many levels - that served little purpose for anyone.

The facts are the All Blacks cruised to a record-equalling victory like a jet boat against a sinking sailing vessel in their opening match of the year to monster surely the weakest Tongan side of the professional era.

The All Blacks scored 16 tries; Will Jordan claiming five on his own to equal Jeff Wilson's record and sit one behind Marc Ellis' six in the rout of Japan at the 1995 World Cup.

That the All Blacks broke a century with the final play to equal the record margin against Tonga – the 102-0 in Albany in 2000 – only further underlines the gulf in class and depth between the two proud neighbouring nations.

Such was the flow of play Jordan made the same number of tackles as he scored tries. Entertainment or a sad indictment on the sport? You be the judge.

To suggest this was a training run is a disservice – staging an All Blacks trial would be infinitely tougher. So, too, would the All Blacks playing any tier one New Zealand provincial side.

It's impossible to be critical of Tonga in the circumstances. Unable to access their leading European-based players in the Covid-19 climate, 'Ikale Tahi fielded 13 debutants – nine in the starting team. Stand-in All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock had more caps than the entire Tongan team.

Any wonder only 15,024 fans turned out to half fill the south Auckland venue. Pockets of red punctuated the empty seats at the Warriors home venue but nothing remotely comparable to the feverish support the Tongan league team received. This time, locals clearly knew they were being sold a dud.

Tongan defended with heart and managed a 15-minute period in the first half where they did not concede but, to use boxing parlance, this was a bantamweight against a heavyweight. The knockout came within the first round – the great shame is it was not called off early.

As Tonga missed touch from a penalty and botched not straight lineouts with the little ball they had, the mercy rule would have been welcome relief.

As early as the sixth minute, when All Blacks halfback Brad Weber cantered in for the first of his hat-trick, it was time to question the sanctioning body.

Through the opening eight minutes it seemed Richie Mo'unga took longer to convert than it did the All Blacks to score their four tries.

At one point Jordan broke the line and had five players unmarked either side of him lining up to cross. On another occasion, Mo'unga almost looked embarrassed such was the ease with which the All Blacks continually opened Tonga up.

As far as a purpose is concerned it's hard to see how this match served anyone any real good. Tonga are attempting to prepare for two World Cup qualifiers against Samoa and their confidence will now be floored.

The All Blacks have two more tests to follow this month against Fiji, who should at least provide competitive opposition.

How much can All Blacks coach Ian Foster take from a performance perspective from this match? Very little one would suggest, given his men were put under minimal pressure.

Dane Coles will always recall leading the haka for the first time. Chiefs second-five Quinn Tupaea will savour his starting debut. Likewise, Crusaders loose forward Ethan Blackadder, prop George Bower and Blues halfback Finlay Christie, the latter becoming the first Scottish-born All Black since Laurie Haig in 1954 after being injected from the bench in the second half.

Loose forwards Luke Jacobson and Dalton Papalii, lock Scott Barrett and Jordan on the right wing stood out amid the constant carnage. Yet it all seems rather trivial.

The All Blacks scored seven first half tries to lead 43-0 at halftime and enjoyed free rein to do as they please. They were seriosuly slick in patches yet that must be put in context of the opposition. Mo'unga also had an off night with the boot, not that it remotely mattered.

There was no respite in the second half, either, with the All Blacks piling on more misery with nine further tries.

A sad state of affairs this was indeed.

All Blacks 102 (Will Jordan 5, Brad Weber 3, Dalton Papalii 2, Damian McKenzie, Luke Jacobson, Richie Mo'unga, Rieko Ioane, Patrick Tuipulotu, George Bridge tries; Richie Mo'unga 7 cons, Beauden Barrett 4 cons)
Tonga 0