The All Blacks declared themselves ready for their record World Cup triple crown bid Saturday after a thumping 92-7 victory over Tonga in Hamilton.
While Tonga are not a top 10 side and were never expected to pose a real threat, the size of the 14 try win ticked a lot of boxes for coach Steve Hansen.
“We’re exactly where we want to be,” Hansen said, adding that completing the match injury free was an added bonus two weeks before their opening World Cup match in Japan against South Africa.
He was even able to deliberately finish with only 14 players on the field to practice with a man down, should the occasion arise in Japan.
The All Blacks, world champions in 2011 and 2015, are gunning for a third consecutive title.
“We get on a plane on Monday to go and have a crack at something that’s never been done before, and we’re the only ones that can do it, so winning three in a row would be something really special,” said Hansen.
Even when they lost recently to Australia and drew with South Africa during the Rugby Championship, Hansen rejected suggestions his squad was too old and maintained their World Cup plans were on track.
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With a handsome win in the return game against Australia they showcased their fast-paced game, which was again on display against Tonga.
Most of the All Blacks’ tries were long-range affairs and scored out wide as they stretched the visitors’ defence.
– High-octane performance –
It was an effort that employed all 15 players delivering a high-octane performance, with even tight-head prop Nepo Laulala producing one-handed off-loads in a quality impression of Sonny Bill Williams.
The tight forwards believed that “they can do a bit more than just push and shove in scrums and rucks,” Hansen said.
“They’ve worked hard getting themselves really, really fit. They’ve dropped weight, some of them, muscle rather than fat… but we’ve worked out we don’t need them bulky, we need them to be agile.”
With the outside backs doing the finishing work, George Bridge scored four tries while Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty both touched down twice, with another try to right wing Sevu Reece and scrumhalf TJ Perenara.
Forwards Codie Taylor, Kieran Read, Matt Todd and Ardie Savea also scored while Beauden Barrett kicked seven conversions and Josh Ioane four.
Tonga’s sole try to captain and Bristol midfielder Siale Piutau came in the closing minutes when the Pacific islanders enjoyed a one-man advantage.
Until then, Hansen had been impressed with the All Blacks defence.
“Although we didn’t get tested that much, what we did see was good line speed, guys coming forward in good positions and getting up off the deck and getting reset in the line pretty quickly,” he said.