AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The All Blacks opened their 2021 season in an unseemly cakewalk, beating a weakened Tonga team 102-0 on Saturday in a match that was a test in name only.
New Zealand scored 16 tries, five to winger Will Jordan, three to scrumhalf Brad Weber and two to flanker Dalton Papalii. Winger George Bridge crossed Tonga’s line in the 82nd minute for the try that brought up an All Blacks century.
Tonga was far from full strength, missing players based in France, Britain and Japan. They chose not to endure the long trip to New Zealand or were not allowed to do so by their clubs. In their absence, Tonga had to call on semi-professionals from New Zealand’s lower-tier provinces and even some from entirely amateur club teams to assemble a squad.
In comparison, New Zealand captain Sam Whitelock has more test appearances than all 36 members of Tonga’s squad combined.
Even Tonga’s ebullient supporters, among the most ardent in the world, who colored Mt. Smart Stadium in their nation’s vivid red, sometimes were silenced by the brutality of the scoreline.
“We came here to do our best,” said Tonga captain Sonatane Takulua, his voice cracking with emotion. “To all our supporters, thank you for taking time to come and support the boys. That’s all we can do, give it our all.”
There was no winner on Saturday. The All Blacks always knew that would be the case.
If they won by too little, their fans would see them as having failed; the reaction to a large winning margin would have been that it was only to be expected. Saturday’s massive scoreline made the All Blacks look like little more than bullies. Had they pulled their punches, they likely would have been condemned as condescending.
Tonga was brave when it performed a rousing sipi tau or challenge before kickoff, then advanced on the All Blacks haka. They made some punishing tackles and never stopped trying.
But it took the All Blacks only 1 minute, 15 seconds to score their first try through fullback Damian McKenzie. The second try to Papalii followed three minutes later and tries then came with metronomic regularity.
Weber and Jordan, the latter finishing an end-to-end movement, scored in the seventh and ninth minutes after which the score already was 24-0. It was 38-0 after 20 minutes and then, incredibly, Tonga held the All Blacks scoreless for 14 minutes as the match became muddled and Tonga had uplifting moments in possession.
But Papalii’s second try broke the spell and the All Blacks had a 43-0 lead at the break. Luke Jacobson scored the first try of the second half and the All Blacks had a half century after 42 minutes.
Jordan had two tries in the first half and added his third, fourth and fifth to become only the third All Blacks player to score five tries in a test. Weber completed his hat trick before leaving the field injured and other notable tries went to lock Patrick Tuipulotu and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who also kicked seven conversions for 19 points.
“I just wanted to say thank you to Tonga for all the hardships they’ve been through,” Whitelock said. “Obviously quarantine is not easy but they went out there and did themselves proud and I just wanted to thank them personally.”
Earlier Saturday, Samoa lost 38-21 to the New Zealand Maori who swept their two-match series. The Maori won the first match of the series 35-10 in heavy rain last weekend and repeated that Saturday in dry conditions which brought their talented backline into play.
Samoa competed at first, scoring tries through center Neria Fomai in the first half and fullback Tomasi Alosio in the second.
Alosio scored just after halftime, from a break by scrumhalf Auvasa Falealii, to cut the Maori lead to 19-14.
Samoa conceded two penalty tries, in the first half for collapsing a maul near the goal line and in the second when a player on the ground illegally played the ball. Sam Slade was sin-binned for the first offense and Genesis Mamea Lemalu for the second.
Hooker Ash Dixon and winger Shaun Wainui also scored tries for the Maori. Determined to the last, Samoa scored the final try of the match after the full time hooter through prop Kalolo Tuiloma.
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