Ma’a Nonu celebrated his 100th New Zealand cap with a try as his side wrapped up a clean sweep of group-stage victories by thrashing Tonga in Newcastle on Friday night.
Tries from Ben Smith and Tony Woodcock before a second-half double from Nehe Milner-Skudder handed the All Blacks their third successive bonus point. Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Cane also crossed over before Nonu’s special moment three minutes from time as the World Cup favourites eventually won by a convincing 38-point margin.
Tonga could only register three Kurt Morath penalties, leaving the New Zealanders to top Pool C with a near-perfect tally of 19 points.
Ma’a Nonu scores his 30th try in his 100th test in his special boots. https://t.co/Rj4pZLoerx
— EatSleepRugby (@eatsleeprugby) October 9, 2015
Steve Hansen’s team had already booked a place in the quarter-finals – where they will face Ireland or France – after three straight wins over Argentina, Namibia and Georgia but their displays had been far from slick. And for spells they were just as disjointed against the Pacific Islanders, but once they did get motoring they blew Tonga away.
The world champions ran out without captain Richie McCaw, who was wrapped in cotton wool – and left to carry the water bottles – after sustaining a slight hip strain. But it was still largely a first-choice XV put out by Hansen, with centre Nonu joining an elite band of just six men who have reached a century of appearances for the ABs.
The Tongans knew only victory would salvage their chances of claiming third place in the group and qualification to the 2019 World Cup. However, despite battling with a determination and ferocity, they could not upset the odds.
It was a Tongan mistake which allowed the All Blacks to go in front after 14 minutes. Hooker Elvis Taione overcooked a line-out and a swift counter attack saw New Zealand romp up-field before Smith was the benefactor of some neat interchanges down the narrow side to run in for the opener, converted by Dan Carter.
Morath put the Tongans on the scoresheet with a penalty but New Zealand scored again when they moved the ball with pace off the back of a scrum, allowing prop Woodcock ample time to bundle over after 31 minutes. Again Carter put over the extras.
Smith was spared a stint in the sin-bin when he dumped Telusa Veainu on his back but Kieran Read was not so lucky as Tonga put the pressure on just before the break.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 9, 2015
Whatever Hansen said at half-time, it worked as his team returned with a more focused eye. Although Morath trimmed the deficit slightly with another penalty, New Zealand quickly added to their tally as they forced the Tongans back, patiently working through the phases before Carter spread the ball wide for wing Milner-Skudder to dive over for another converted touchdown.
Another Morath penalty was reward for his side’s tenacity but their losses continued as MilnerSkudder raced on to Smith’s grubber to put the scoring touch on a fourth try, converted by Carter.
With Tongan resistance wilting, substitute Williams was allowed to drive through the heart of their defence to add another score, leaving Carter with another simple kick.
Things went from bad to worse for Mana Otai’s team when prop Paula Ngauamo was handed a yellow card for another dangerous drop tackle on Carter.
With their defensive shape undone, Cane cantered in while Carter was again flawless with the conversion. But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Nonu as he raced down the left wing to put a gloss on his milestone occasion with the seventh try.
Carter’s boot finally failed him though as he tugged the conversion.
Head coach Michael Cheika said on Friday that his squad will approach the game as if their quarter-final status was not already assured.
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All Welsh rugby fans have a special place in their hearts for Scott Gibbs, his injury time try in the 32-31 defeat of England at Wembley 1999 one of the greatest days in Welsh rugby history.
It was just one chapter of a distinguished rugby career that transcended rugby’s two codes.
In union, he won 53 caps for Wales and was part of three British & Irish Lions tours, picking up the title of Player of the Series in a memorable 2-1 triumph against South Africa in 1997. In league, he won the inaugural Super League title with St Helens in 1996.
Now residing in Cape Town, Gibbs is in Dubai as part of OSN’s Rugby World Cup coverage and sat down with Sport360 to discuss some of his most memorable moments in the game.
Can you see anyone besides New Zealand winning this World Cup?
It’s a tough ask to think someone can knock them over. We’ll look back at the end of it and think ‘didn’t the All Blacks make it look easy’, because they know all about the hoodoos of quarter-finals. They know how to play hard and ugly if they need to, and with the game-breakers they have they can flip games on their head with great footwork, acceleration, coupled with all that experience in the front five.
Not many people gave Wales a chance but they’ve made the quarter-finals. What do you put that down to?
I know they’re well prepared and they’ve gotten over the disappointments of losing some of their key colleagues. They know and relish these big games. If you’re going to go well in this tournament and do the impossible then you have to knock over these big teams along the way. The England game was the biggest game in Welsh rugby history. The only bigger game is going to be Australia then hopefully the biggest game in Wales’ history will happen at the end of October.
Why weren't you pessimistic about Wales’ chances?
The injuries aside I don’t think we’re weakened. Our depth is eroded but I thought Wales could get out of the group. The challenge now is backing it up and beating Australia which they haven’t done in 10 attempts. There is enough experience in the squad to overcome adversity.
Tell us about your previous World Cup experiences?
1991 was my first World Cup. I was working as a researcher for ITV at the time. It was predominantly facts-based back then so there was no video to research the opposition so we hadn’t seen a great deal of Argentina. We didn’t even know where Western Samoa was. I remember that game, the disappointment of losing (16-13). Eight of us were sent to Cardiff Royal Infirmary in our tracksuits. Phil May clutching his shoulder because he dislocated it. Anthony Clement had a few broken ribs, and then the rest of us were suffering cheek bone and jaw injuries because they were vicious.
I remember the consultant surgeon coming out and looking at us and thinking what the hell happened to you guys. We told him we just lost against Western Samoa. He said ‘thank god you didn’t play the whole of Samoa’. My jaw’s still a little bit loose from playing against them.
What about 1999?
It was different for me. I was going in feeling great and then all of a sudden I was in quarantine for 10 days in the hotel, later diagnosed after the tournament with Legionnaire’s Disease, so I lost lot of weight and felt really under the weather. More disappointment as we went out in the quarter-finals against Australia. My World Cup experiences haven’t been great.
And what was your time like in Rugby League?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. The most enjoyable part of my career was playing three seasons for St Helens. Great people, played for a great organisation. Amazing town and support, I really have the fondest memories of my career there.
I suppose you always have that fondness when you’re winning and we were fortunate enough to lift two trophies. We won the Challenge Cup and the Super League.
As for THAT 1999 game against England at Wembley…
I picked the wrong day to have a poor game. I mean, you take the try out of it, I had a dreadful game. We managed to claw ourselves back in a second-half revival; Shane Howarth scores. Neil Jenkins didn’t miss a kick. Lawrence Dallaglio didn’t take his shots at goal so we were still in the hunt.
There was a high tackle on Colin Charvis that gave us field position. Scott Quinnell and I had gone through the playbook earlier in the week. We hadn’t really got a strike move off a lineout, it was a Hail Mary pass essentially. He and I were on the same wavelength.
Chris Wyatt made a great pass. What we needed was Scott Quinnell to catch the ball, running across field, dragging defenders with him so maybe there was some space to hit a hole. I picked my hole, came on like a steamtrain and danced through the English defence and scored. I threw the ball to Neil. He wanted me to score under the posts but he was immaculate that day. He was never going to miss.
A fantastic day in Welsh history. It was the last sporting event at Wembley and I’m just delighted to play my part in that wonderful stadium’s history.
What is your career highlight?
I’m saying it because of the World Cup and Wales v England. There’s never an insignificant match. Both of the ones I won were in dramatic circumstances. Ieuan Evans’ try where he kicks through and outpaces Rory Underwood to score was a massive shock to beat them.
Obviously to close the game out at Wembley having been trampled by England in the first half, when they were going for the Grand Slam. Any Welsh victory over England is special and means so much to the nation.
Who’s the best player you’ve played against and with?
Tim Horan and Walter Little telepathically, physically and skillfully set the bar so high in midfield play. Jerry Guscott was special to play with. I played rugby league with Jonathan Davies and he was very special too.
Physically that body didn’t belong on any rugby field but he could play. He would see things happening before they happened and his ability to evade was second to none. I was blessed growing up to watch him play and then play with him.
The 1997 Lions tour was also special?
The Lions tour defined me as a player with my exploits. I have fond memories. I’m glad I shared that. We came together. There was a great blend of what was required to go to South Africa and beat them. The squad was young but well selected, both in terms of personality and talent. That was key to success.
John Bentley’s inclusion wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but when he was upbeat he kept everybody’s spirits up. He borders on being a comedian and a lunatic and he loves to tell anecdotes.There’s some stories but I’ve always been very serious about my sport so I’ll leave him to add some colour.