All Blacks 57
Passive, sloppy, frustrating.
The All Blacks comfortably defeated a spirited Fijian side in Dunedin on Saturday, but the manner in which they did so sparked major concerns for the season ahead.
Aaron Smith's maiden test as All Blacks captain brought many more challenges than most expected.
Fiji sure took it to the All Blacks - their supporters bringing the noise amid another underwhelming 15,013 test turnout.
For a side that held two training runs together as a full squad after emerging from two weeks quarantine, this was a monumental effort.
Fiji had two halfbacks, Frank Lomani and Moses Sorovi, and first-five Teti Tela stuck in Australia due to the closed transtasman bubble.
Inspired by their Island nation being ravaged by the Covid-19 crisis, with some players losing family members, Fiji scored three tries to rattle the All Blacks, particularly in the collisions.
Despite his men scoring nine tries All Blacks coach Ian Foster has plenty to ponder. After making 13 starting changes from the team that humbled Tonga 102-0 last week, the lack of cohesion was widely evident from the All Blacks.
The story of the match was Fiji's ability to dominate the All Blacks at the breakdown. More often than not the All Blacks lacked urgency, accuracy and aggression with their cleanout work as they were frequently unable to shift the strong Fijians over the ball.
10 Jul, 2021 09:00 AMQuick Read
Given this is an area the All Blacks specifically targeted after being exposed there in recent seasons there are no excuses for being beaten to the punch.
The All Blacks struggled to build sustained pressure due to their lack of quick, clean ball. Even when they didn't win turnovers Fiji's success in slowing the ruck allowed their defensive line to reset.
Other areas need urgent attention, too. The All Blacks restart receptions were poor; offloads didn't go to hand and their kicking game was wayward at times.
Dane Coles claimed four tries off the bench in the second half – three of those coming from lineout drives – as the All Blacks finished with a flourish to blowout the final scoreline.
Other than Coles, Sevu Reece was the standout for the All Blacks against his countrymen. Reece was heavily involved from the right wing, making one telling bust that led to a try.
Others, though, will be looking over their shoulders for next week's return test against Fiji in Hamilton as Foster ponders his first-choice starting squad.
Typically, Fiji are renowned for their flamboyant skill, offloading and running rugby but while captain Levani Botia proved a handful from the midfield, it was the breakdown they did their best work.
The All Blacks conceded eight first-half turnovers (11 in the match) with the vast majority of these breakdown penalties won by Fiji.
Referee Paul Williams was lenient at times with his ruling of the tackler releasing but the All Blacks were guilty of being too slow to adapt and commit more numbers to clearing the ruck.
Despite scoring three first-half tries, frustrations built for the All Blacks.
Three tries to Jordie Barrett and a double from Havili, who swiftly recovered from one wayward early pass, established a 21-6 lead but the All Blacks could not put the foot on the throat with several other errors creeping into their game.
Patrick Tuipulotu spilled two restarts; Hoskins Sotutu's lifters abandoned him leading to a lost lineout and, on attack, the All Blacks ball carries were often static which sparked indecisive decision-making.
Losing Beauden Barrett for a short stint after he copped Brodie Retallick's boot to his face caused disruption but even when he returned, the All Blacks lacked their attacking flow.
Credit must be paid to Fiji.
After crashing over through London Irish No 8 Albert Tuisue they deserved to be right in the contest 21-11 at halftime, with their defensive pressure causing the All Blacks problems too.
Both sides conceded yellow cards in the second half - Havili sent to the bin after Fiji claimed a penalty try while Fijian Kini Murimurivalu copped his for a cynical infringement.
With two further second half tries Fiji refused to play their part in another Pacific walkover.
In the washup, Vern Cotter's side will certainly be much more pleased than the All Blacks.
All Blacks 57 (Dane Coles 4, David Havili 2, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Will Jordan tries; Beauden Barrett 6 cons)
Fiji 23 (Penalty try, Albert Tuisue, Mesulame Kunavula tries; Ben Volavola 2 pens)