The red sea was out in force, but their overwhelming support wasn’t enough as New Zealand dominated Tonga 34-14.
After Tonga’s impressive win in 2017, the mostly Tongan crowd at Mount Smart were expecting a hard-fought contest but witnessed a primarily one-sided affair as the Kiwis made easy work of Tonga.
After trading handling errors it was New Zealand that drew first blood when Brandon Smith rushed out of dummy half, evading several defenders as he charged over the try-line, Esan Marsters converted the try giving the Kiwis a 6-0 lead.
A Joseph Manu error moments later gave Tonga a much needed set in the Kiwis red zone, a penalty for a high shot gave Tonga another set. Jason Taumalolo looked sure to score, but the returning Benji Marshall managed to get himself between the ball and the grass. Tonga couldn’t break through the New Zealand line but after a repeat set and another penalty found success in the 21st-minute when Solomone Kata latched onto a Daniel Tupou bat back to score, Kotoni Staggs was unable to convert the try.
The Kiwis took little time to bounce back when Shaun Johnson took advantage of a slow defensive line and stroll over almost untouched, Marsters conversion pushed the lead out to 12-4. David Fusitu’a almost had the final say of the first half, but another mammoth effort from Marshall prevented the massive winger from scoring one of his trademark tries in the corner.
The Kiwis had the last laugh however as Johnson crossed for his second try in what was almost a mirror image of his first, Marsters missed the conversion, giving New Zealand a 16-4 lead as they went into the break.
The Kiwis wasted little time kicking into action as the second half started when Smith stormed out of dummy half surging up the field putting a well-weighted grubber kick through that hit the goal posts. Johnson and Tuivasa-Sheck combining to score (the scorecard will read Johnson, but it looked like Tuivasa-Sheck got there first), Marsters conversion pushed the lead out to 22-4.
Smith went from hero to villain after his forward pass gave Tonga possession deep in the Kiwis half. Tonga spent the next ten to twenty minutes with the lions share of possession and territory, but the lack of a solid playmaker started to take it’s toll as Tonga struggled to convert any of their opportunities into points.
The Kiwis regained possession and took advantage of a Daniel Tupou dropped ball when Jahrome Hughes broke the scoring drought in the 62nd minute, targeting the lacklustre defence with a sniping run out of dummy half, Marsters conversion pushed the lead out to 28-4. Joseph Manu got himself on the scorecard minutes later when he charged out of dummy half and was almost untouched as he crossed the line, Marsters converted once again giving New Zealand a resounding 34-4 lead with 13 minutes remaining.
With the game all but over, the Tongan crowd broke into song which appeared to give the men in red a boost; this lead to the scoring back to back tries through Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Daniel Tupou. Taukeiaho converted his own try but missed Tupou’s to end the game with Tongan having plenty to work on before their next match in October.
Lack of Playmakers hurt Tonga
Tonga has a great forward pack, but if they want to compete regularly with the Tier 1 nations, they need to find some playmakers. No disrespect to their current halves but they are not of the calibre required to combat New Zealand, Australia or England.
Finding new halves is no easy feat, but it is a task Tongan need to look into sooner rather than later.
SJ’s return home a success
After his very public departure from the Warriors, you could imagine the nerves Johnson would have had as he made his way onto the Mount Smart field for the first time in six months. Shaun had a night to remember always looking dangerous with the ball in hand and was rewarded with his hat trick.
Combining with Benji Marshall for only the second time in his career appeared to take all the pressure of the elusive five-eighth and Kiwi fans will be hoping both players stay healthy so they can combine once again at the end of the year.
Ruck defence needs work
Tonga has lots to work on after this result, but the main issue they had was ruck defence, 4 of the Kiwis 6 tries came from sniping out of dummy half. The absence of Andrew Fifita may have exposed Tonga in the middle of the park, but after this performance, you can expect all teams facing Tonga to rush out of dummy half as soon as they see an opening.
If Tonga can tighten up their marker defence, they will increase their chances of winning tenfold.
Pride in Jersey returning
The 2017 World Cup was a dark time for Kiwi fans, being knocked out in the quarterfinals was an all-time low for New Zealand and changes needed to be made.
Michael Maguire was brought in as coach and players appear to want to play for New Zealand again. A passionate Kiwis side is a dangerous side, images of Benji Marshall with tears rolling down his cheeks during the National Anthem will be the face of the new Kiwis pride for years to come.
If the Kiwis can bring this pride and passion into their match against the Kangaroos in October, they have a legitimate shot at coming away victorious.
New Zealand 34
Tries: Shaun Johnson(3), Brandon Smith, Jahrome Hughes, Joseph Manu
Goals: Esan Marsters 5/6
Tries: Solomone Kata, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Daniel Tupou
Goals: Kotoni Staggs 0/1, Sio Siua Taukeiaho 1/2
New Zealand: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. Ken Maumalo, 3. Esan Marsters, 4. Joseph Manu, 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6. Shaun Johnson, 7. Benji Marshall, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Brandon Smith, 10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11. Kenneath Bromwich, 12. Briton Nikora, 13. Isaac Liu, 14. Jahrome Hughes, 15. Leeson Ah Mau, 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 17. James Fisher-Harris
Tonga: 1. William Hopoate, 2. David Fusitu’a, 3. Kotoni Staggs, 4. Solomona Kata, 5. Daniel Tupou, 6. John Asiata, 7. Tuimoala Lolohea, 15. Addin Fonua-Blake, 9. Silivia Havili, 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho, 11. Tevita Pangai Junior, 12. Manu Ma’u, 13. Jason Taumalolo, 14. Manase Fainu, 16. Peni Terepo, 17. Sitili Tupouniua, 19. Tevita Tatola