Coles bags four as All Blacks late surge downs Fiji
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Dunedin (New Zealand) (AFP) –
A rattled All Blacks struggled to put away an under-prepared Fiji in Dunedin on Saturday but four tries by Dane Coles in the second half resulted in a flattering 57-23 scoreline.
In a match the All Blacks were expected to run away with, it was not the performance they wanted and it needed an explosive closing 30 minutes to ensure there would not be a boilover.
Heading into the final quarter they were hanging on at 31-23 and coach Ian Foster said Fiji had exposed areas the All Blacks need to work on.
"They had moments in that game where they put us under quite a bit of pressure but overall I'm pleased with the way we came through that," Foster said.
"It highlighted a few areas that we're obviously going to have to go and tidy up," he added. "I thought we were really tested and challenged."
The All Blacks were fresh from the Super Rugby season and a warm-up match against Tonga, while the Fiji squad flew in from around the world and only emerged this week from their 14 days quarantine after arriving in New Zealand.
While the Fijians had little match practice, they took a physical approach to the game that rocked the All Blacks.
Coach Vern Cotter said it was a performance they could build on ahead of the second Test next week.
"We showed grit, determination, guts, physicality and a few smarts," he said.
"What was really encouraging was that even though we tired towards the end of the game, they still kept their heads up and if we'd scored a try at the end, and we weren't far away, it would have been a moral victory for us."
- Fiji start stronger -
Following their 102-0 victory over Tonga last week, the All Blacks made wholesale changes and arguably fielded a stronger side.
But it was the Fijians, with their bruising, head-on approach, who started strongest and were on the board in the fifth minute with a Ben Volavola penalty.
When the Barrett brothers replied with a Jordie try converted by Beauden, Volavola closed the gap to 7-6 with a second penalty.
The All Blacks felt they had opened up a buffer with back-to-back tries by David Havili to lead 21-6 midway through the first half, but then found themselves marched back in a lineout drive from Fiji that produced a try for Albert Tuisue.
A George Bridge try early in the second half put the All Blacks ahead 26-11 but Fiji were continuing to win the forward battle and were not going to give up.
Mesulame Kunavula crashed over to close the gap to 26-16, and when Dane Coles scored the first of his tries, the Fiji forwards stormed back on attack and won a penalty try from a desperately defending All Blacks.
But from there, the All Blacks shut down the game with three more tries to Coles and one to Will Jordan.
© 2021 AFP