New Zealand beats physical Fiji 57-23 in 1st test

·4-min read

DUNEDIN, New Zealand (AP) — Hooker Dane Coles scored four tries as a second-half replacement to allow New Zealand, shaken by a physical and intrepid Fiji, to eke out a 57-23 win Saturday in the first of two rugby tests between the teams.

Ranked 11th in the world, Fiji scored three tries including a penalty try against second-ranked New Zealand — the three time world champions — to emerge with the much of kudos from the match.

Fiji was only eight points behind New Zealand with three quarters of the match behind it. It was only Coles’ tries in the 52nd, 65th, 72nd and 76th minutes — a record number for a replacement — that gave the All Blacks' win a veneer of respectability.

New Zealand was brought down to earth by Fiji after romping almost unopposed to a 102-0 win over Tonga last weekend. Fiji rattled the All Blacks and set their ears ringing with massive collisions in defense and outplayed a passive New Zealand team at breakdowns, forcing it to rely on its set piece for try-scoring opportunities.

Fiji had a difficult preparation for the match. While it was close to full strength, able to select most of its top players from France, Britain and Japan, it missed others who were trapped in Australia by border closures and was without backline star Semi Radradra who is with its rugby sevens team for the Tokyo Olympics.

Its overseas players had to complete mandatory isolation after their arrival in New Zealand, some emerging only Wednesday to belatedly join the match build-up.

Fiji played superbly in the face of those difficulties, in its first test against New Zealand in 10 years. New Zealand scored fewer points and Fiji scored more than in any previous meeting between the teams.

“We didn’t have much time to prepare so I want to thank the boys for keeping their heads tonight,” Fiji captain Levani Botia said. “It was the first time playing against the All Blacks for most of our young boys and some of the new players.

“I salute them tonight," he continued. "We came tonight to play rugby, Fiji rugby. We know when we play the All Blacks it’s not an easy game and we had to prepare ourselves to play 80 minutes. The All Blacks are a mighty team, the best team in the world, so we have to keep our standard up to compare with them.”

Fiji did keep its standard up throughout the match and was still attacking when the final whistle blew.

New Zealand was forced to rely mainly on lineouts, the best aspect of its performance, to build its attack because Fiji’s dominance at breakdowns prevented it playing a more fluid attacking style.

Fullback Jordie Barrett scored New Zealand’s first try in the eighth minute from a lineout drive. When the All Blacks forwards released the ball, David Havili, Beauden Barrett and George Bridge handled quickly to create the try.

Havili scored two tries within two minutes midway through the half, both from lineouts. When a lineout drive was held up, the All Blacks moved the ball wide and Havili cut back through the defense for his first. He was at first receiver for his second, again from a lineout drive.

Fiji hit back quickly with a try to Albert Tuisue, who turned the tables on the All Blacks by diving over from a driven maul. New Zealand led by only 10 points, 21-11 at halftime.

Winger George Bridge scored the first try of the second half but Fiji again replied from a lineout with a try to flanker Mesulame Kunavula who, with Tuisue, was part of an outstanding Fiji backrow.

Coles scored his first try when Fiji was down to 14 men, with fullback Kini Murimurivalu in the sin bin for slowing down the All Blacks’ ball. Fiji again replied, this time with a penalty try, after Havili committed a similar offense.

Coles drove home the impact of the All Blacks bench with three more tries while Will Jordan, who scored five tries against Tonga, came off the bench to grab another.

“I thought when I came on with Sam Whitelock we talked about bringing some energy,” Coles said. “I felt we took some control back with some mauls and I just sat on the back and got a few tries.”

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