Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Rugby World Cup on track

New Zealand 83

Japan 7

All Black winger Richard Kahui crosses for a try against Japan at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Christine Cornege
All Black winger Richard Kahui crosses for a try against Japan at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Christine Cornege

Trainings were held in private all week but last night the All Blacks invited 30,000 to an open session at Waikato Stadium.

Even with the late injury defections of skipper Richie McCaw and three of his senior lieutenants, the All Blacks were far too strong for Japan.

It was like a practice session for the hosts, who claimed 13 tries in their hit-out against a gallant but outclassed and under-powered Japan.

The All Blacks' advantage was underlined in the backs where Ma'a Nonu was too much for the Japanese defenders, and when he was double-teamed, the holes were created further out.

The All Blacks rarely looked at full throttle and made enough basic errors for the coaching staff to have their full attention next week at training.

It was probably a relief for many to stretch their legs again after the uncertain last half against Tonga, a chance for them to run through some of the routines they will need later in the tournament.

An hour before kickoff, it was all happy families, with Japan's coaching staff of John Kirwan and Mick Byrne chatting with All Black coaches and players.

Then everyone observed silence for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami tragedies in Christchurch and Japan.

But when Nigel Owens whistled time for the teams' second-round clash on a calm night in Hamilton, the hostilities began.

The All Blacks cashed in very early when Conrad Smith finished Victor Vito's midfield thrust from turnover ball.

It was a rollicking start in the third minute and pessimists must have wondered if there was going to be a score blowout to rival the 145-17 walloping the All Blacks delivered at Bloemfontein in the teams only other World Cup meeting in 1995.

Those thoughts dulled until the All Blacks kicked away again with a scoring flurry in the second quarter.

They finished with a venomous three tries in the last 10 minutes and the questions were whether the interval would dull that surge as it seemed to do last week at Eden Park.

Perhaps as a nod to that and to keep the heat on within the team, the coaches introduced Andrew Hore and Sonny Bill Williams five minutes after the break.

Williams' entry was the most intriguing as he was posted on to the right wing to replace Cory Jane.

He was on the score sheet within five minutes running on to a reverse pass from 15m after his forwards had crunched their way within sniffing distance of the whitewash.

Most of the bench was on inside the last quarter, with Colin Slade shifting to fullback, leaving Jimmy Cowan at halfback and Piri Weepu to control the five-eighths region.

Slade was playing his seventh test but only his third start after beginnings against Fiji and the Springboks earlier this season.

He looked composed enough after a slow start when he missed three conversions in a row and there was a loose pass which Japan wing Hirotoki Onozawa intercepted and ran 45m to score.

But he had a 60-minute shift, which will give him confidence if he is needed to cover again for Daniel Carter next Saturday against France at Eden Park.

For the final quarter he stretched his legs further at fullback where Isaia Toeava also had a steady match, backing up all night and claiming perhaps the try of the evening.

Richard Kahui began it inside his half with a kick-and-retrieve before Sam Whitelock, Adam Thomson and others backed up and Toeava cantered in for the touchdown.

Five of the Japanese side were back from their opening-round defeat to France.

Eight All Blacks returned from last week though Nonu, Kahui and Toeava were in different positions and the side was captained by Keven Mealamu in the absence of McCaw.

All Blacks 83 (C Smith, R Kahui 2, J Kaino, K Mealamu, A Ellis, C Slade, I Toeava, A Hore, S Williams 2, M Nonu, A Thomson, tries; C Slade 9 con)

Japan 7 (H Onozawa, try; M Williams con). HT: 38-0.

- NZ Herald

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