New Zealand beats Tonga 92-7 in World Cup warm-up


HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — Winger George Bridge scored four tries while fullback Ben Smith and center Ryan Crotty bagged doubles as New Zealand overwhelmed Tonga 92-7 Saturday in its last match before defending its Rugby World Cup title in Japan.

Bridge’s first try was among eight scored by the All Blacks in the first half, after which they led 54-0, and he added three more in the second half as New Zealand brought its tally for the match to 14.

Smith scored both of his tries in the first half, playing his way back into form with perfect timing ahead of New Zealand’s World Cup opener against South Africa in Yokohama on Sept. 21.

Beauden Barrett kicked seven conversions, playing only the first half, and Josh Ioane added four on debut after taking over the goal kicking in the second half. New Zealand still fell short of its record winning margin against Tonga: 102-0 in 2000.

Tonga, ranked 15, showed an indomitable spirit by scoring the last of the match through captain Siale Piutau and holding top-ranked New Zealand scoreless for the last 15 minutes.

New Zealand also took eight minutes to score its first try through winger Sevu Reece, and the floodgates opened as Tonga barely touched the ball as it played into a stiff breeze in the first half.

Bridge recorded his second try by catching the kickoff which started the second half and running in almost unopposed as the scorline mounted relentlessly.

Hooker Codie Taylor, scrumhalf T.J. Perenara, and back rowers Matt Todd, Ardie Savea and captain Kieran Read also scored before the All Blacks’ attack fizzled toward the end of the match.

“It’s our last hit-out together and I guess we’ve got two weeks between now and our first (World Cup) game,” Read said. “It was really important we just kept building and it’s the exciting part from here on in.

“We just wanted to keep control. You’ve got to earn the right to score tries like we did and if wingers are scoring tries on the sideline that means you’re doing a good job on the inside.”

The All Blacks’ forwards were dominant at breakdowns, giving their team an almost constant supply of possession. Among the backs the veteran Smith, Bridge, center Anton Lienert-Brown and Perenara were outstanding. Savea and Read were impressive among the forwards.

New Zealand scored almost at will from set pieces — the best example coming when Crotty went over the line as first receiver from an attacking scrum — and from turnovers. Smith scored both of his tries from long range after breakdown turnovers.

Head coach Steve Hansen told reporters Thursday that Smith was suffering from a loss of confidence after an injury-plagued season. He fully recovered his confidence Saturday with his double and as by playing a key lead-up role in several tries.

Savea was rewarded for an outstanding game with a try in the 47th minute, created from a cross kick by Ioane which Reece caught on the fly. Reece turned the ball infield to Crotty and he passed to Savea who finished like a winger.

New Zealand will face much greater defensive pressure at the World Cup but will take confidence from the fact that, when given space, its attack is well-oiled.

Tonga will also try to find positives from its defeat.

“A loss like this is difficult for the boys to take,” Piutau said. “But we’ll go back to the drawing board and learn a lot from this match and hopefully we can execute come the World Cup.”

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