CARDIFF (Reuters) - Reigning champions New Zealand were far from their brilliant best but overcame an inspired Georgia 43-10 on Friday to become the first team to qualify for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
Despite the patchy display, the All Blacks scored four tries before halftime to secure the bonus point and another three after the break to seal their third win from three games in Pool C ahead of their final match against Tonga on Oct. 9.
Waisake Naholo took just 73 seconds to notch the opening try on his return just 10 weeks after breaking his leg, his fellow winger Julian Savea grabbed a hat-trick and hooker Dane Coles, number eight Kieran Read and Malakai Fekitoa also crossed.
Georgia, who rested a raft of first choice players with an eye on their final pool match against Namibia, deserved full credit for making life difficult for the world champions and their captain Mamuka Gorgodze was named Man of the Match.
The biggest cheer of the night from the crowd of 69,187 at the Millennium Stadium came in the fifth minute when Georgia fullback Beka Tsiklauri hacked the ball through and touched down for a converted try that tied the scores at 7-7.
Largely, though, New Zealand were responsible for their own shortcomings with inaccuracy of execution leading to a string of handling errors.
Even the great Dan Carter, the leading points scorer of all time in test rugby, had an off night, converting just four of the seven tries and finding the deadball area with a kick for touch in the second half.
“We were trying too hard at times and created a lot of opportunities in the first half but were trying to finish it too quick instead of taking another phase or another tackle,” skipper Richie McCaw said in a touchline interview.
“You can’t underestimate Georgia, though, (and) we are not going to panic.”
There were some high points for New Zealand, most notably when Naholo came off his wing in the second minute and brushed off one tackler before beating the cover defence for pace as he raced 60 metres to score.
Savea showed off his finishing skills with two tries in the corner, McCaw’s intelligent running created space for Coles to cross in the corner and Read barrelled over under the posts in the 52nd minute.
By midway through the second half, however, the chant of “All Blacks! All Blacks!” from New Zealanders in the crowd was one of encouragement rather than the usual triumphalism.
Savea crossed for his third try in the 73rd minute before replacement back Fekitoa put a gloss on the score with a typically powerful run three minutes from time.
Editing by Justin Palmer