All Blacks beat Tonga in first Rugby World Cup match
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Hosts New Zealand kicked off the Rugby World Cup with an All Blacks 41-10 victory over a weak Tonga team in the tournament’s first game on Friday.
REUTERS - The All Blacks failed to calm the nerves of their supporters as they seek to exorcise their World Cup demons, lurching to a 41-10 victory over Tonga in the first game of the tournament on Friday.
The hosts have entered every tournament since 1991 as the hot favourites to win the Webb Ellis trophy only to fail every four years. They have not won the World Cup since the inaugural tournament, also in New Zealand, in 1987.
Their error-ridden performace against a game, but hardly threatening Tonga side, however would have done little to allay any fears they could leave the tournament empty handed again.
"I'd say six or seven out of 10," coach Graham Henry told reporters of how he marked the opening performance. "It's early in the tournament, there's a bit of tension, we've been waiting a long time for this.
"Scored some good tries, defended well, made too many mistakes, gave away too many penalties.
"Bit of work to be done."
As is so often the case the All Blacks produced crowd pleasing, running attacking rugby with man of the match Richard Kahui, who scored two tries and had a hand in two others, particularly prominent.
Inside centre Sonny Bill Williams and Israel Dagg were also sublime in the first half, with Williams' ability to offload in the tackle and find runners of his shoulder bringing the 60,214 people in the revamped Eden Park into full voice.
Both Dagg and Williams had been given a opportunity to show what they could do on the big stage and their first-half performances at least would have made Henry's future selection meetings difficult.
The All Blacks, however, made too many handling errors that would be punished by stronger sides, while they failed to hammer home their territorial advantage in the first 20 minutes of the second half when they needed to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Auckland had been in party mood all day with thousands of people flooding into the central city to special "Fan Zones" to celebrate the start of the tournament.
The Eden Park crowd were also treated to a scintillating opening ceremony and television pictures of a spectacular fireworks display in central Auckland but the game failed to live up to the pre-match expectations.
The All Blacks scored four tries by halftime with fullback Dagg and winger Kahui crossing twice each and the scene was set for a rout reminsecent of previous tests between the two sides.
Flyhalf Daniel Carter slotted three conversions and a penalty, while Tonga's flyhalf Kurt Morath got his side on the board on the stroke of halftime to go into the break 29-3 down.
The All Blacks, however, failed to capitalise on their dominance after the break, with the loudest cheer coming when Williams had to strip off his torn jersey for a new one.
The crowd also embarked on several Mexican waves as their attention turned away from the field to trying to amuse themselves.
Jerome Kaino finally ended the drought in the 58th minute when he took a pass from Kahui, who had re-gathered his own kick ahead after the All Blacks had wheeled a scrum on halfway that allowed them to exploit the gaping blind side.
The match degenerated into a physical arm wrestle after that with Tonga hammering away at the All Blacks line, earning several scrum penalties, before replacement prop Alisona Taumalolo smashed his way over. Morath converted.
The All Blacks had the final say when centre Ma'a Nonu finished off some clever inter-play with replacement flyhalf Colin Slade, for the All Blacks' sixth try, which Slade converted.
"Some of the players looked really nervous, some of the new players overwhelmed by the occasion," Tonga coach Isitolo Maka said. "But to score 10 points against the All Blacks I'm very, very proud."