September 7, 2019 / 4:57 AM / 3 months ago

Bridge scores four tries as All Blacks thrash Tonga

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Rookie winger George Bridge scored four tries as the All Blacks completed their Rugby World Cup preparations by thrashing Tonga 92-7 at Waikato Stadium on Saturday.

The All Blacks ran in 14 tries, including one from Bridge just seven seconds into the second half when he caught the kickoff from debutant flyhalf Josh Ioane and ran 40 metres untouched.

Ben Smith, playing in his preferred fullback role, and Ryan Crotty each scored twice, while Sevu Reece, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, captain Kieran Read, Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara also crossing for the world champions.

Tonga captain Siale Piutau crossed in the 77th minute for a consolation try for the visitors, who will have had their confidence severely dented before they head to Sapporo for their clash with 2003 champions England in Pool C on Sept. 22.

New Zealand open their World Cup campaign against South Africa in Pool B in Yokohama on Sept. 21.

“We could have just rolled in with our eyes on a couple of weeks to go, so I’m really proud the way we stuck at it from the first whistle,” Read said.

“It was our last hit out and it was important we have to keep building now.”

The game in Hamilton was just the second between the two sides outside of a World Cup. The All Blacks won the first 102-0 in Auckland in 2000.

Saturday’s match ticked a lot of boxes for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in terms of gelling some of their attack and giving Smith confidence at fullback after some lacklustre performances on the wing.

Their defence was also strong and they played the last 15 minutes with 14 men, bringing the uninjured Crotty off despite having used all of their replacements.

The All Blacks are well aware, however, that they are unlikely to get the same amount of time and space against the Springboks.

New Zealand were keen to send a message in their final match at home before heading to Japan and once Reece crossed in the ninth minute it was one-way traffic.

The home side scored eight tries in the first half, with Barrett converting seven of them for a 54-0 lead at the break.

Ioane, who is not in the World Cup squad but will be on standby in case of injury, replaced Barrett at halftime and his first act in test rugby led to Bridge’s second try.

The All Blacks looked to be heading for another 100-points performance against Tonga as they scored four more tries with more than 20 minutes remaining before the game lost some shape with a raft of replacements.

Despite the heavy defeat Piutau said they had to build on the performance, not rip everything up and start again.

“We had a game plan. We didn’t execute it, so we got put to the sword,” Piutau said.

“This will be difficult to take but we don’t want to go back to the drawing board. We have taken a lot of lessons out of this and hopefully we can execute come the World Cup.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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