New Zealand vs. Tonga 9th Sept
Tonga 10 v. New Zealand 41
I haven’t seen much of recent New Zealand rugby, as I only watch them when they come over here or during world cups, but I had a feeling before the tournament that they’d win it, just because their run of losing World Cups they look destined to win has got to end sometime. On the basis of this game … it’s hard to tell much!
As usual, they were very competitive at the breakdown and they move the ball quickly through the backs who all seem to take the ball at pace and spin long, flat passes. Jerome Kaino looked awesome at 6, and he certainly relished the contact. One of those players who doesn’t ever seem to move backwards and always gets the ball back. Ma’a Nonu was great – a really intelligent rugby player, who cuts the right lines and times his passes perfectly. I was quite impressed with Richard Kahui on the wing – the Tongans didn’t seem to be able to tackle him for the first half an hour and their scrum and line-out was generally untroubled.
My first time watching the much-hyped Sonny Bill Williams and I wouldn’t pick him in the starting line-up. Too much showboating (and too many first names) for my liking. Twice he went for the line when he should have passed it; I particularly enjoyed it when he came up having lost the ball on the 5 metre line with one sleeve of his shirt torn off. I reckon he belongs to the new generation of sports players, who are picked up in an academy at early age and, having always been at the top level of an over-hyped sport at all age groups, never manage to develop common sense or get their feet on the ground. Lots of rugby observers whose opinions I respect highly rate Conrad Smith and I suspect he’ll start against France, if Graham Henry’s not one to be swayed by images of Williams’ torso. Neither New Zealand scrum-half impressed greatly, the starting choice of Jimmy Cowan having a shocker.
Tonga? Did OK. The lowest ranked of the Pacific island teams, with quite a few players employed in second division rugby in England or France, like the rest of them, Tonga suffer from a lack of money, a lack of time playing together and the fact that their best players get creamed off by their richer rugby union neighbours. Still, their second half was something to be proud of. All of their players can throw a good pass from scrum half (not something Kiwi hooker, Andrew Hore, can manage; whose ugly, hospital pass to Dan Carter led eventually to the Tongan try) and there were, as usual some good hits defensively at times. I liked the 18-and-a-half stone blind-side, Sione Kalamafoni, who I suspect will do quite well at Nottingham this season. Alisona Taumalolo seemed to have fun when he came on, knocking Mr. Carter all over the place and then picking the ball up too.
Just after their try, Tonga played some beautiful sevens-style rugby, including some off-loads that Sonny Bill Williams would be jealous of until they knocked the ball on just as they’d looked like they’d worked a gap. In the end, of course, New Zealand were too good for them and the result was never in doubt.