Zinzan Brooke: Tonga Test important for Ben Smith

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I think the All Blacks will comfortably deal with Tonga, but it might not be a flash game.

 

They will need to minimise mistakes even with a few changes. But there are still a few proven combinations there.

 

The key factor will be setting ourselves a platform in the engine room. That forward pack looks solid, even without Dane Coles, Sam Cane and Brodie Retallick. There are ball carriers in there and none better than Ardie Savea. He generates momentum and enthusiasm.

 

That back three is interesting. That must be the first time they have played together. In my last column, I said I had reservations about Sevu Reece, especially on defence, but he had a very good game at Eden Park, as did George Bridge. The latter doesn’t look imposing, but what he is does is very efficient.

 

Ben Smith at fullback will be seeking a confidence-boosting performance. This is an important Test for him. He was outstanding at the last Rugby World Cup. Four years on, what is he going to contribute to this team? We know he has the pedigree, but a really good outing will boost his chances of selection against South Africa in a fortnight.

As an aside, I would rest some key personnel for that Springboks Test in Yokohama. They are already doing that with the injured Retallick. I’m picking the Boks to make it all the way to the final. Their pack is building nicely and they will cause teams major problems.

 

I am concerned with the number of injuries in the All Blacks squad. All things being equal, we’ll play either Ireland or Scotland in the quarter-final, so it doesn’t matter hugely if we drop that opener against the Boks. I would ask the question of the guys numbered 16-31 and see how they manage.

 

I still feel that, of all the World Cups, the All Blacks will have to work for this, not in every game, but from the quarters onwards. Eighteen months ago I would have thought it was theirs to lose.

 

As for the mindset of the All Blacks against Tonga, I feel we need to not sidetrack ourselves from what we analyse as a good performance. That was an emphatic response by the All Blacks at Eden Park three weeks ago and it was much needed. So against Tonga we need to continue the momentum of what was created against the Wallabies in Auckland.

Tonga has some very useful players. Up in the north we know about halfback Tane Takalua, who was at Newcastle, Siale Piutau, who is at Bristol, and big Maama Vaipulu, who plays in France.

 

The Ikale Tahi is in a tough pool, with England, France and Argentina, but we all remember what happened in 2015 when Japan shocked South Africa. The island teams always contribute to the colour and history of the World Cups. Tonga is a good side and the All Blacks will underestimate them at their peril.

 

That said, I’d like to think the All Blacks will put 40+ points on in Hamilton. We’ll see within the first 10 minutes about whether Tonga can compete at the set-piece. If we can keep Tonga to 12 points or under, that would be a good day at the office.

 

 


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Zinzan Brooke

Brooke played for the All Blacks between 1987 and 1997, playing 58 tests and 42 matches. Across the 100 matches, Brooke scored 195 points, made up of 42 tries and three drop goals. He is considered one of the best number eights to have ever played for the All Blacks with running and kicking skills of a back along with the strength and mobility of a great loose forward.

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