A ruthless New Zealand piled on 16 tries, including five to Will Jordan, as they overwhelmed an under-strength Tonga 102-0 on Saturday for their opening Test of the year in Auckland.
Despite the lopsided result, both All Blacks’ coach Ian Foster and Tonga’s Toutai Kefu believed the match was worth playing.
“A lot will be made of the score, and clearly the score was one-sided,” Foster said.
“You can get a lot out of it because we had some real areas we wanted to target.
“There were moments when we started to get really flat … but after a while we readjusted and started to convert the opportunities we got and that took discipline.”
Kefu, with 13 debutants in his side, saw positives ahead of their World Cup qualifying matches this month against Samoa, described the result as “unpleasant” but valuable.
“It will be memorable for the new players but we move on. It’s a bad day at the office against the best team in the world,” the coach and former Australian backrower said.
“We never gave up. The effort was fantastic. There was some execution and decision making we need to work on but you can’t fault the effort.
It was the ninth time the All Blacks have notched a century of points and equalled their highest score against Tonga set 21 years ago, while Jordan’s five tries were one short of the New Zealand Test record set by Marc Ellis in 1995.
It took just 67 seconds for Damian McKenzie to score the opening try and within 19 minutes the All Blacks were up 38-0.
But when it looked like they could threaten their world record for the highest Test score — 145-17 against Japan in 1995 — they lost their shape for a period and scored only once more in the first half to turn with a 43-0 lead.
For more than a quarter of an hour Tonga kept the All Blacks scoreless and showed at scrum time they would not be easy to push around, but they were never competitive.
Without access to their top players on contract in the northern hemisphere, Tonga’s mix of mainly amateur, New Zealand-based players could not match a fully-professional All Blacks unit, hardened by four months of brutal Super Rugby.
The All Blacks were in a no-win situation with the spectators, though, as they faced criticism both when not playing to their full potential and when they embarrassed a hapless opposition by scoring at will.
“All the fans were acting like we won,” quipped Kefu.
The biggest cheers came when Tonga twice turned down kickable penalties in favour of an attacking scrum, although both times went without reward.
In the second half, the All Blacks regained their structure and produced a relentless attack with nine further tries as they dismantled Tonga with ease.
In addition to Jordan’s five tries, Brad Weber scored three and Dalton Papalii two, with one each for McKenzie, Luke Jacobson, Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane, Patrick Tuipulotu and George Bridge.
Mo’unga landed seven conversions with four from Beauden Barrett, who came on as a replacement in the second half.