Rugby World Cup 1999
Two tries for Lomu as New Zealand down Tonga
October 3, 1999
A marauding Jonah Lomu breaks a Tongan tackle to score
© Getty Images
The All Blacks got their World Cup campaign under way with the hard physical workout they were looking for, after a six week lay off, finally scoring a comfortable looking victory, but Tonga made them fight all the way.
Indeed, throughout the first half the Tongans made a nonsense of the New Zealanders' pre-tournament favouritism, the discipline of their organisation and the ferocity of their tackling contrasting with the hesitancy and imprecision of their illustrious opponents.
The doubts which have surrounded the All Blacks, in particular the ability of their tight five to impose themselves , will re-surface after the struggle they had to establish their patterns, only in the second half as the Tongans tired did they manage any degree of control.They will also be concerned by the calf muscle injury to tight head prop Kees Meeuws, which forced him from the field after 13 minutes.
The match started in comical fashion, referee Derek Bevan feeling the need to intervene as both camps' hakas threatened to collide and provide him with his first disciplinary headache.From the kick off, the Tongans showed promising organisation to catch, re-cycle and drive the ball forward.Taine Randell dropped the first high ball, and that foreshadowed a poor game for him- hesitant, far too many handling errors, lack of physical presence.
The fire of the Tongan start was sensational, the ease with which they rattled the All Blacks promising for later opponents.The rustiness in New Zealand ranks was further exemplified by Mehrtens' mis-timed kicking in general play and poor communication in the line-out.
New Zealand settled some of their early nerves in the 7th minute when, from a line-out deep in Tongan territory a series of forward drives and a slick inside pass from Mehrtens sent Lomu over under the posts from eight metres. Mehrtens converted, but the Tongan forwards got straight into the action, getting amongst and scattering the All Blacks, looking organised, determined, running straight and hard, forcing the defenders backwards and sideways. Although surviving on scraps, the All Blacks did look dangerous around the fringes. Mehrtens missed a 14th minute penalty but kicked one 2 minutes later, but the heavier Tongan pack continued to bash away, depriving the All Blacks any discernable pattern.
Taumalolo kicked penalties in the 22nd and 29th minutes, just reward for a period of sustained attacking, four/five phases at a time of controlled attacking football, ball in hand, looking patiently for gaps to appear in the defence.
Mehrtens and Taumalolo exchanged penalties at the end of the half, Mehrtens in the 36th and 40th, Taumalolo in the 38th, but we saw poor passing from the All Blacks. Wilson and Ieremia knocking on under defensive pressure as the Tongan forwards blew over in the loose. To compensate, the All Blacks tried to go wide but swarming defence denied them space and time. Lomu and Umaga became very prominent, taking the ball forward and setting a target in a way many of their forwards failed to do.
The All Blacks would have been relieved to end the first half 16-9 ahead, a chance to re-group and re-think their tactics.The second half began with a brief burst of heavy rain. An initial lack of urgency allowed the Tongans to regain their first half impetus so that much of the New Zealand offensive work started to look desperate. A storming run by Lomu down the left wing hinted at the pattern that would emerge in the second half. Tonga, however, continued to defend heroically, a series of attacking All Black scrums being contained and the ball finally turned over.
After a 44th minute Mehrtens penalty, Lomu finally established a measure of All Black dominance in the 60th minute, a try in the left hand corner capitalising on slick work by Umaga, Mehrtens and Kronfeld. A superb conversion from Mehrtens took the All Blacks to 26 points and then an avalanche of scoring threatened to engulf the Tongans.The All Blacks revisited the left hand corner on two further occasions, Kronfeld supporting in typical fashion to score in the 63rd minute and Norm Maxwell ranging out wide latched on to a fine Cullen pass in the 67th minute.
Kelleher replaced Marshall with 13 minutes remaining and his impact was immediate.He looked sharp and determined, fittingly he scored a 71st minute try after clumsy Tongan work at the base of a defensive scrum. Being forced to play most of the game deep in their own half the Tongans had few second half opportunities, but their spirit survived, they never conceded ground easily, and the final score belied the gap between the two sides.
The All Black camp will be worried. Their new shirt, complete with chest panel designed to make ball retention so much easier, was a dismal failure. Much of the early All Black handling was clumsy, the distribution imprecise. Only late in the game did their forwards achieve any degree of cohesion of going forward and clearing the ball. Scrum- half Marshall looked laboured, surely Kelleher's time has come. They will obviously be sharper as a result of this game but a mighty battle with England looms. Will the All Blacks be able to provide any sort of platform from which to launch their backs ?