All Blacks finish Rugby World Cup pool play with dominant win over Uruguay
LYON, France (AP) — New Zealand overcame a sluggish start to beat Uruguay 73-0 in its final pool match at the Rugby World Cup on Thursday. But the All Blacks' performance was less than the polished quarterfinal rehearsal they were hoping for.
New Zealand took 20 minutes to score the first try of the match and for much of the first quarter was put under pressure by Uruguay, which rose to the occasion of the first official test match between the teams.
“It was quite a tough test match, especially in the first half. We were made to really work for it,” All Blacks captain Sam Cane said. “In that first 20 minutes we showed some good composure and patience to not allow (errors) to creep in and we started getting some rewards.”
The All Blacks recovered to score four tries in the second quarter and lead 26-0 by halftime. But they will look back on their shaky start with concern as they were often turned over at breakdowns by Uruguay and at times looked stretched in defense.
Still, the All Blacks finished with 11 tries including a second-half hat trick to winger Leicester Fainga'anuku. After their first up loss to France, they beat Namibia 71-0, Italy 96-17 and added another 73 points on Thursday.
Both teams had early tries disallowed: The All Blacks twice, to Cam Roigard and Damian McKenzie, and Uruguay to a crowd-pleasing effort which was finished by Manuel Ardao, who was just taken into touch in a covering tackle by Will Jordan.
New Zealand's solid scrum gave it a foothold in the match and scrumhalf Roigard again played a leading role, staking a claim for a bench role in the quarterfinals squad.
McKenzie also shone from fullback and his sublime piece of skill to create a try for Jordan was the All Blacks' highlight of the first half. He kicked ahead and when the ball bounced, he balanced precariously close to the touchline and swept the ball one-handed to Jordan.
By halftime, the All Blacks had control of possession and tries came more regularly. They were able to lift the tempo of the match as they had tried but mostly failed to do in the first half as referee Wayne Barnes often found fault with their breakdown technique.
With momentum, the All Blacks scored first-half tries through McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga, Jordan and Roigard and started the second half with tries to prop Fletcher Newell — his first in tests — a second to McKenzie and Fainga'anuku's first.
But when they ran on their bench from 50 minutes or so their cohesion again began to fray and the match became scrappy. More than 10 minutes elapsed between their seventh try and their eighth, a second to Jordan again from strong scrummaging.
Fainga'anuku completed his hat trick with tries in the 68th and 78th minutes and prop Tamaiti Williams also celebrated his first test try while New Zealand cycled through three goalkickers — Mo'unga, McKenzie and Beauden Barrett — who all kicked conversions.
“We expected that sort of game,” New Zealand coach Ian Foster said. "We talked about how this was going to turn into a bit of a bun fight at the breakdown.
“We flagged earlier we were really impressed with their work in the pool and it took us a while to break them down. They put a lot of energy into that period and reaped some rewards but it is how you sustain that for 80 minutes.”
At the end of their pool matches and ahead of a potential quarterfinal against Ireland, the All Blacks will reflect carefully on concerning aspects of Thursday's match. They can't afford a slow start, a lack of organization at the breakdown or the poor skill execution that plagued them early.
The date with Ireland still depends on the outcome of Friday's final Pool A match between France and Italy and anticipates a French win.
There still were high points on Thursday. All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock became only the second male international after Wales' Alun Wyn Jones to play 150 tests. All of New Zealand's front-liners came through unscathed and there still is strong competition for some places in the quarterfinal lineup.
Roigard, McKenzie, Jordan, Fainga'anuku and Anton Lienert-Brown had good matches among the backs and the improvement in the All Blacks scrum continued.
Uruguay's World Cup is over but they have won admirers for their dogged performances.
“Uruguay have been outstanding in this World Cup,” Cane said. “I have enjoyed watching their passion and ability to throw the ball around.”
Uruguay captain Andres Vilaseca called their World Cup experience amazing.
“Today, we were against the best team in the world and sometimes you just have to keep pushing and try your best,” he said. "We can be very proud of ourselves.
“It's about learning and trying to give our best and trying to grow the sport in Uruguay. It has been amazing.”
Former Toronto Arrows Manuel Diana and Gaston Mieres started at No. 8 and wing, respectively, for Uruguay.
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby