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Improved All Blacks absorb Tongan pressure

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Lynn McConnell     10 Oct 2015     Getty Images

Tonga came to the party by giving New Zealand a tough defensive test, forcing the side to dig deep and enjoy the benefit of stern preparation for the play-offs phase of the tournament.

If this was the last hurrah for many of the long-serving Tongan players, only an upset win could have made it a better display of their accumulated knowledge in the game. Their work with the ball in hand, ability to retain position and their effectiveness in the tackle was outstanding and yet another demonstration of the improvement among rugby's lesser nations. They held the All Blacks to 14-3 at the break.

The All Blacks had to absorb pressure throughout which allowed no leeway as Tonga pressured the ball. But once settling, the All Blacks struck down blindside alley where sharp work by flanker Sam Cane, who turned back inside, and centre Conrad Smith, whose in-pass found fullback Ben Smith who crossed for the first of seven team tries 12 minutes into the game.

Tonga maintained their intensity on the tackle and pressured the All Blacks but it had its effect and holes started to open. The second try was created from a scrum in the Tongan 22m area with Naholo coming off the blindside wing and No.8 Kieran Read took it further before halfback Aaron Smith was able to feed prop Tony Woodcock for the try.

Tonga made good use of a penalty awarded for a tip tackle by fullback Ben Smith to kick for the corner to launch a rolling maul. It moved at speed across field and just in front of the goalposts Read was ruled to have taken the maul down and was sin-binned. It was a worrying first half for Read, who was captaining the side, and three dropped high balls compounded his frustrations.

Tonga mounted three scrums, two of which saw the reduced All Blacks pack penalised but in the last they stood firm and Tonga were forced to move the ball but were unable to get over the line and New Zealand's defence was impressive.

Tonga continued in similar vein in the second half as they camped close to the goal-line making drive after drive at the defence. Halfback Sonatane Takulua thrived in the close quarter play while lock Joseph Tuineau, flanker Nili Latu and No.8 Viliam Ma'afu were consistently taking the ball up.

But once Morath landed a second penalty goal in the 48th minute, there was more intensity from New Zealand at the restart and good build-up saw the ball moved right and wing Nehe Milner-Skudder finished.

Nine minutes later he was back in again as New Zealand benefited after another Morath penalty goal. At the re-start, Ben Smith, who had just moved to the wing, chased the ball, claimed it and with replacement Beauden Barrett touching the ball for the first time, he put a grubber kick through and Milner-Skudder touched down.

The infusion of bench players helped the All Blacks cause and Sonny Bill Williams benefited when from a ruck close to the Tongan line, Aaron Smith ran the ball, and then flicked a reverse pass for Williams for the simplest of tries.

Sam Cane added to the tries when crossing after a maul and the finale came in the 75th minute when from a kick return, Barrett moved the ball to the left side of the field. Milner-Skudder committed the defenders and through a pass to the left flank where second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu raced along the sideline to score a try on his 100th Test appearance.

Completing the night was a significantly improved goal-kicking performance from first five-eighths Dan Carter who landed six out of seven attempts at goal.

Scorers: New Zealand 47 (Ben Smith, Tony Woodcock, Nehe Milner-Skudder 2, Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Cane, Ma'a Nonu tries; Dan Carter 6 con) Tonga 9 (Kurt Morath 3 pen). HT: 14-3