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Patchy All Blacks still too strong

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Sportal.co.nz     23 Jul 2011     Getty Images

But it wasn't a perfect display from the hosts who looked rusty in the season opener. They were still, however, too good for a Fijian side made up largely of local, inexperienced players whose key assets were patriotism rather than power and precision.

It was, however, the closest they had been to beating New Zealand, with their previous best a 50-point margin in Wellington in 1997.

The opening 20 minutes belonged to the hosts who, despite trialling a supposedly different style in the match, had the majority of the possession.

Colin Slade eased his nerves early with a quick penalty in what was the start of a good match for the young Cantabrian. Five minutes later he was at it again before a superb backline move saw Sitiveni Sivivatu score the home side's first try.

He missed the conversion, but made amends moments later when he landed a penalty to blow the score out to 11-0. He then got his first try in the black jersey with a superb chip-chase. Converting his own try saw the lead blow out to 18.

Fiji kept them out of action for a while, before two quick tries to hooker Andrew Hore and flanker Adam Thomson ensured the hosts went into the halftime break with a comfortable 32-0 scoreline.

Fiji's head coach Samuela Romoni's rallying cry seemed to pay dividends as they dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second half as the visitors searched for respectability.

The All Black defence was given its first test when Nemia Serelevu was given some space from winger Naupolioni Nalaga before he was cut down five metres short.

But in a blur they scored their first try. Fijian number eight Sakiusa Matadigo outran Jimmy Cowan and Colin Slade before offloading to the evergreen Serelevu, who scored near the posts.

Bai converted the try and the Fijian flags flew with pride as the deficit was cut to 25.

It inspired Fiji, who lifted and ensured their try was no fluke by controlling the ball on attack, and defending solidly when they needed to protect their half.

But they couldn't keep the All Blacks out all night. The Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith combination proved to be fruitful, with both players gunning for a try. Smith won the foot race and scored his 19th Test try.

It took some time before they were back on the scoreboard again. Substitute halfback Piri Weepu dotted down for his seventh Test try to give the chilly Carisbrook crowd some respite after having to resort to Mexican waves for entertainment as the Test ground to a halt through silly errors and needless penalties.

But as soon as they scored, Vereniki Goneva got Fiji back on the board with a superb individual try.

Bai duly converted to ensure they got close to their highest score against New Zealand, when they were beaten 68-18 in Wellington 14 years ago.

As in the first half, two quick tries at the end of the second half, one a penalty try and one to 95-Test veteran Muliaina, ensured New Zealand inflated the scoreline to keep the crowd happy.

But they won't be particularly satisfied after a rusty performance and a spirited Fijian team saw them play a match they would have envisaged to be a lot easier.

Fiji, on the other hand, will go away with pride knowing that, while they couldn't replicate their Pacific Island neighbours Samoa, the amount of pride and passion shown from their supporters at their display was almost as fulfilling for the tiny Pacific nation.

New Zealand: 60 (Andrew Hore,Adam Thomson, Colin Slade, Sitiveni Sivivatu, C onrad Smith, Mils Muliaina, Piri Weepu, penalty, tries; Slade 4 con, 2 pen; Daniel Carter 3 con) Fiji 14 (Nemia Serelevu, Vereniki Goneva tries; Seremaia Baikeinuku 2 con). HT: 32-0