Phil Gifford outlines five talking points from the strange, contentious test between the All Blacks and Tonga.
DAMNED EITHER WAY
When the All Blacks led Tonga 24-0 after eight minutes at Mt Smart Stadium you'd have needed a heart of stone to not have a moment when you wished a captain could declare in rugby, so the whole thing could be called off.
But after the test had finished, at 102-0, Tonga's captain, Sonatane Takulua, spoke with emotion so raw and personal it was a reminder that with Pasifika rugby nothing is ever as cut and dried as it might seem.
Internationally Tonga, Samoa and Fiji have had the rough end of the stick ever since the northern rugby nations realised, when Manu Samoa beat Wales in the 1991 World Cup, that these happy chappies from the South Seas couldn't be patronised any more. In fact, if they got a fair deal, they'd start beating northern teams on a regular basis.
Don't think for one second the rule saying that playing even a minute in one international side's jersey forever disqualified you from playing for another nation, was not aimed straight at the heart of Pacific Island rugby.
Add in the fact rugby in England and France, in particular, is run by the clubs not the national unions, and that the clubs could give a big fat rat's about whether Pasifika teams thrive, and you have a Gordian knot of a problem. It's then compounded by Samoan and Fijian rugby being so politicised that, ridiculously, the chairs of the Samoan and Fijian Rugby Unions are also the Prime Ministers of the countries.
So, in blunt terms, as one-sided as the Tongan test was at Mt Smart, as valid as the arguments were against it even being held, if the Tongan players wanted it, who are any of us to deny them the chance?
RECYCLING IS REVEALING
"The Tongan side had heart, and energy, but a break of half a step was all it took for the All Blacks to be dotting the ball down 50 or 60 metres down the field."
Saying that about the Mt Smart test would have been entirely accurate, but those are words I wrote two years after Tonga was beaten 92-7 in Hamilton.
The most obvious, massive, Grand Canyon-sized gap between the sides on that sunny Waikato September afternoon in 2019 was the blistering pace of the likes of Sevu Reece and Beauden Barrett, which the Tongan players couldn't remotely match.
Thankfully the Tongan rookies at Mt Smart were robust enough physically to emerge without any serious injuries, a reasonable concern when club players are up against the All Blacks. But, as it was in Hamilton, Tonga, on defence and attack, couldn't touch the sheer speed of people like Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, and Damian McKenzie.
SWEET REDEMPTION NIGHT
All four of the loose forwards used by the All Blacks were outstanding. Dalton Papalii showed that running like the wind with the ball doesn't have to be mutually exclusive from ferreting out turnover ball in the dark interior of a breakdown.
Akira Ioane's work ethic was so good he was the man who ripped the ball clear for Patrick Tupulotu's try just four minutes from end. Ethan Blackadder's cameo featured brutally potent tackling and a delicate, basketball-like pass in the middle of the move that led to Will Jordan's fourth try.
But of them all there was probably the greatest pleasure in seeing Luke Jacobson, who got to Japan for the World Cup in 2019, but was then sent home without playing because of concussion issues, storming around the field. Head injuries, a starker but entirely accurate way of describing concussions, can never be taken lightly, but if ever a man deserves an untroubled run, after his heartbreak in Japan, it's Jacobson.
WE'LL SOON KNOW THE REACTION
The Māori All Blacks-Manu Samoa curtain-raiser at Mt Smart, won 38-21 by the Māori side, was as competitive as the All Black-Tonga game was a walkover.
How the first World Cup qualifier between Manu Samoa and Tonga next Saturday at Mt Smart will go should give a fascinating insight into what's better psychologically going into a key test. Is it a game that at times was an arm wrestle, or brave but futile resistance against the team a class above you?
THE ANTHEMS WERE SO GOOD THEY DESERVED AN ENCORE
If there could be debate forever over the test itself, nobody could argue over the performances of the anthems, which should have raised hair on the arms of all but the tone deaf.
So well done to Resonate, a trio based around the hugely talented Wolfgramm family of Auckland, who sang the Tongan anthem, and Bella Kalolo and Hollie Smith, two massively gifted stalwarts of Kiwi music, who performed the New Zealand anthem. If the lead in to every test had singers like these five no spectators would ever be late to their seats.