Hooker Dane Coles yesterday scored four tries, three off the back of rolling mauls, to help New Zealand see off a spirited Fiji side 57-23 in an entertaining Test under the roof of the Otago Regional Stadium in Dunedin.
The All Blacks were expecting a much stiffer contest than in their 102-0 romp against a weakened Tonga side last week and Fiji delivered with a physical challenge that their hosts struggled to contain at times.
While a home win never really looked in doubt, five-pointers for Fiji from Albert Tuisue and Mesulame Kunavula, as well as a penalty try, will give New Zealand coach Ian Foster much to ponder ahead of next week’s second Test in Hamilton.
The All Blacks ran in nine tries in total — three in the last 15 minutes as their opponents tired — but still posted their lowest tally in six Tests against Fiji going back to 1987.
“Fiji brought a lot of intensity and probably showed us an intensity we needed to [match] in the second half,” New Zealand skipper Aaron Smith said.
“We knew it was going to be a different beast this week. They’ve got some quality players and I think both teams will take a lot out of this. Bring on next week, it’s going to be awesome,” he said.
The All Blacks led 21-6 at the end of the first quarter after fullback Jordie Barrett opened their account and David Havili marked his return to Test rugby with two tries from inside center.
Fiji, inspired by Europe-based flanker Johnny Dyer and skipper Levani Botia, then stepped up a gear and started dominating the tackle area.
They got their reward when No. 8 Albert Tuisue crashed over for a try in the 28th minute after a catch-and-drive and were trailing only 21-11 at halftime.
All Blacks winger George Bridge crossed for New Zealand’s fifth try four minutes into the second half, but flanker Kunavula quickly responded for the visitors after a trick play from another attacking lineout.
Fiji fullback Kini Murimurivalu was yellow carded for a ruck infringement in the 52nd minute and the All Blacks immediately rolled a maul over the try line with Coles coming up with the ball.
Fiji hit back again just after the hour mark when New Zealand brought down their rolling maul close to the line and the referee awarded a penalty try and sent Havili to the sin bin.
In the last 15 minutes, Coles rode the New Zealand maul to two more tries and grabbed another at the end of a flowing move, while replacement back Will Jordan added another to his Test tally after crossing five times last week against Tonga.
SAMOA V TONGA
Samoa yesterday ran in five second-half tries to beat Tonga 42-13 in a World Cup qualifying playoff in Auckland, taking a healthy lead into next week’s return leg in Hamilton.
Center Henry Taefu scored the final try and contributed 15 points from the kicking tee as Samoa put themselves in the driving seat for a place in Pool D at the 2023 World Cup along with England, Japan, Argentina and an Americas qualifier.
Tonga, who were backing up from a drubbing at the hands of the All Blacks last week but only trailed 6-3 at halftime, still have a path to France even if they cannot overturn the deficit.
The losers of the playoff face Cook Islands in Pukekohe, New Zealand, on July 24 for the right to play the Asian champions — Hong Kong, South Korea or Malaysia — for a spot in Pool B at the World Cup.
Samoa have competed at every World Cup since the 1991 edition, twice reaching the quarter-finals, while Tonga only missed the 1991 tournament.
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