All Blacks 60 v Fiji 14 at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
The All Blacks have beaten Fiji by nearly 50 points, but neither they nor their fans will be happy with their performance. Unfortunately, the marker is set very high for a team like the All Blacks and the resting of their Crusader players or it being the first game of the season will be disclaimers enough to keep the critics at bay. Despite the high score line, it is actually the lowest score the All Blacks have ever posted against Fiji.
Harsh critics aside, there is plenty of positives to take out of the match, least of all the heads-up the All Blacks will have to work hard on the breakdowns before the meet the Springboks in Wellington next week. Fiji fought hard at the breakdown and either stopped the All Blacks getting a lot of clean ball or in many cases even turned the ball over. Hopefully this is just the wakeup call the All Blacks needed.
The All Black coaches will be pleased with the 55 minutes given by scrutinised winger Sitiveni Sivivatu. The left winger showed hunger, work rate and pace to be constantly involved – exactly what the coaches wanted from him. It will be interesting to see if the All Black stalwart has done enough to warrant a starting spot against the ‘Boks, or if his fate is already decided.
Colin Slade did what he needed to in his first All Black start at flyhalf. However, the difference when Dan Carter came on the field was obvious. Especially pleasing for Colin Slade would be his six out of seven goal kicking and getting through the encounter unscathed.
Adam Thomson looks to have sewn up the two-horse race with Liam Messam for the loose forward spot on the bench. Both were given an opportunity with starts in this match, but only Thomson took it with both hands. He was quick off the line in defence, shutting down multiple Fijian attacking opportunities and made an All Black high 13 tackles in the match. He also showed his versatility by playing at seven when Jerome Kaino took the field, with McCaw moving to eight. Messam, on the other hand was fairly anonymous throughout the match. It was a game where he should have been able to stamp his authority, especially starting at number eight. Perhaps he was buried in the tight, with lock Ali Williams being predominant in open play.
In his fairytale return to the All Black jersey, Williams will be disappointed he was unable to make more of it. There were a few handling errors but these will probably be forgiven by the selectors who will no doubt just be happy to see him survive the 80 minutes. It’s unlikely he will be challenging the regular duo of Brad Thorn and Sam Whitelock in the near future. This is also true of fellow starting lock Jarrad Hoeata. Apparently Hoeata had a knee injury early in the game and he was unable to assert the dominance the selectors were wanting.
The Fijians were smart in how they kept the scoreline as low as possible against the All Blacks. They actually used their scrum inferiority to their advantage. They gave away penalty after penalty at the scrum, and even a penalty try in the closing minutes. However, this frustrated the All Blacks who were unable to use the scrum as an attacking platform.
They were also fierce at the breakdown and in defence, although the referee probably gave them too much latitude on the offside line, particularly when chasing kickoffs. Tough decisions went both ways, with the final All Black try looking to have a forward pass and knock on, and the aforementioned scrum penalty try appearing to be a harsh decision. Standout for the Fiji rugby team was their number six, Dominiko Waqaniburotu, who the All Blacks struggled to contain.
Their pool at the Rugby World Cup 2011 is getting tougher and tougher, with both Samoa and Fiji showing form in a pool that also has South Africa and Wales. Whoever makes it to the quarter final will be certainly feeling the effects from those encounters.
New Zealand 60
Tries: Sitiveni Sivivatu, Colin Slade, Andrew Hore, Adam Thomson, Conrad Smith, Piri Weepu, Mils Muliaina, penalty try
Penalties: Colin Slade, 2
Conversions: Colin Slade, 4; Dan Carter, 3
Tries: Nemia Serelevu, Vereniki Goneva
Conversions: Seremaia Bai, 2