HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — Fiji-born winger Sevu Reece scored three first-half tries against his native country as New Zealand beat Fiji 60-13 on Saturday to sweep the teams’ first-ever two-match series.
Reece was born in Nadi, Fiji and followed the path of many of his countrymen in seeking an education in New Zealand before committing to play rugby for his adoptive nation. He touched down in the 14th, 30th and 35th minutes to give the All Blacks a commanding 29-6 lead by halftime.
Fiji rocked New Zealand with its physical play in the first test of the series last weekend, stretching the All Blacks before four second-half tries to replacement hooker Dane Coles lifted the home side to a 57-23 win.
The Flying Fijians again tested New Zealand early in Saturday’s match, scoring the first points from a penalty to Ben Volavola and trailing by only 10-6 after 30 minutes. The All Blacks were booed by their own fans in the 28th minute when, leading 7-6, they opted for a kick at goal from an attacking penalty.
The match swung heavily in New Zealand’s favor in the last 10 minutes of the first half when a series of errors and moments of indiscipline from Fiji yielded three tries and gave the All Blacks a 23-point halftime lead.
In the 30th minute, fullback Kini Murimurivalu, under no pressure, dropped a high kick on his own 22 and allowed the All Blacks an attacking scrum. As the New Zealand pack trundled forward, scrumhalf Aaron Smith and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga attacked down the blindside, creating the chance for Reece to score.
Five minutes later, Reece was in again. Mo’unga took a quick tap from a penalty while Fiji captain Leone Nakarawa was still addressing his team after a series of defensive penalties. The ball went quickly to Reece, who walked over outside a compact defense.
Nakarawa was sent to the sin-bin just before halftime and the All Blacks immediately capitalized with a try to backrower Ardie Savea in his 50th test.
Winger Will Jordan opened the second half with a try after only a minute; his ninth try in only five tests for the All Blacks. Fiji quickly responded with a try to prop Peni Ravai, who peeled from a lineout drive and drove through the All Blacks defense.
The All Blacks picked up the pace with a try to replacement center Rieko Ioane and another to Tonga-born hooker Samisoni Taukie’aho on debut.
Fullback Damian McKenzie made a try-saving tackle on Fiji flyhalf Volavola in the 62nd minute, cutting him down from behind and the All Blacks passed 50 points when back rower Shannon Frizell scored in the 68th minute.
Taukei’aho added a second try in the last minute to inflate the All Blacks winning margin. Though their performance was moderately better than the first test, the All Blacks didn’t dominate the match at any stage.
“I was really impressed with the boys today,” All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock said. “I think we’ve had a lot of growth and development, we’ve got very tight as a team and now we can have those hard conversations.”
Whitelock thanked Fiji for coming to New Zealand at a time of a major COVID-19 outbreak in their homeland, with more than 1,200 cases reported Friday. The Fiji team was expected to wear a pro-vaccination message Saturday but, for the second match in a row, it did not appear.
New Zealand’s scrum was strong Saturday, their lineout better after starting hooker Codie Taylor left the field, and they were better at the breakdown than they were the week before. But there are still many aspects of their game that have to be improved before they face Australia and South Africa in the Rugby Championship in a month’s time.
Fiji came out of the series with considerable credit but it will likely be a long time before they are able to assemble a team again which is spread so widely around the world.
“We never lose, we always learn,” Nakarawa said.
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