Grant Chapman: Five things from All Blacks' romp over Tonga

OPINION: Without meaning to be disrespectful, the All Blacks probably could have found a sterner World Cup workout from a game-of-three-halves against Tasman and Canterbury.

Perhaps the best outcome from their 92-7 romp over Tonga was that no one seemed to pick up injuries that might cost them a trip to Japan.

Against bone-rattling Polynesian tackling, that's no small consideration.

Whether a stroll in the park will prove the ideal preparation for their next outing - a grudge match against old foes South Africa in their World Cup opener - remains to be seen.

Certainly, the result left more problems than solutions for the poor Tongans, as they contemplate England in their first tournament outing.

But the match provided an attractive enough spectacle and just may have provided some players with a badly needed shot of confidence, after previous struggles this season.

Here are five things to take from the All Blacks v Tonga encounter at Hamilton:

Welcome back, the real Ben Smith

 

One player under the spotlight this week was the veteran fullback, who seemed at risk of losing his place in the starting line-up.

Coach Steve Hansen had alluded to his lack of self-confidence this season and most would agree that being shunted out onto the wing, while Hansen and co. indulged their Mo'unga-Barrett obsession, sure hadn't helped Smith.

He may still find himself the odd man out in that shuffle, but he sure looked good, restored to his rightful No.15.

Smith was busy and went looking for work, playing a key role in several of the All Blacks' early tries, while scoring a pair himself.

Hansen wanted to see 'Bender' being Bender and he certainly seemed to enjoy himself.

The other to shake off a few cobwebs was second-five Ryan Crotty, who controversially edged Ngani Laumape out of the World Cup squad, but showed some zip around the field, after an injury-plagued season.

He also scored a brace of tries in his first international outing of 2019 - and last in New Zealand.

Rieko who?

 

Ioane was another struggling for form, after starting the year as undisputed first-choice All Blacks wing.

He was supposedly rested from the second Bledisloe test to give George Bridge a chance to earn his World Cup ticket, but Bridge has shown no signs of giving the No.11 jersey back.

The Crusaders flyer was a revelation against the Wallabies and a class - maybe two - above the Tongans, scoring four tries and cutting the defence to ribbons, whenever he touched the ball.  

In this form, Hansen can't possibly drop Bridge against South Africa, leaving Ioane - absent with a 'tight calf' - on the outside, looking in.

Likewise, Sevu Reece again showed he offers more than Smith does on the wing. Few would have picked a Bridge-Reece starting tandem two months ago.

The other Ioane

 

While Rieko was nowhere to be seen, his namesake snuck onto the field and showed he may yet have a part to play in the World Cup, despite missing initial selection.

Highlanders first-five Josh Ioane replaced Beauden Barrett at half-time and wasted no time making his presence felt.

Bridge gathered his perfectly placed restart to score just seven seconds into the second half.

Josh Ioane made his test debut against Tonga.
Josh Ioane finally got the chance to play for the All Blacks. Photo credit: Photosport

Ioane's boot also set up two more tries, cross-kicking for Sevu Reece to send Ardie Savea away, then putting a grubber through for Bridge to retrieve and score his fourth.

He also took a couple of massive hits, one of which saw Tonga reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes, but Ioane bounced back up and showed some durability.

Much has been made of the decision to include just two first-fives - Barrett and Richie Mo'unga - in the World Cup squad, but Ioane showed he's a capable call-up, if something evil befalls them.

He's certainly one to watch moving forward.

Savea everywhere

 

One experiment that has worked for the All Blacks is starting Ardie Savea on the blindside flank in combination with a specialist openside.

He was probably the outstanding player of Super Rugby this year and way too good to leave languishing on the bench internationally.

Savea's promotion to the No.6 jersey seems to have freed him up to show his vast array of skills in a variety of ways.

Against Tonga, he lived in the backline, almost like an extra centre. He assisted on three tries, providing the final passes for Reece, Smith (after stealing a ruck turnover) and captain Kieran Read, while also featuring prominently in Crotty's first.

Then, he scored one of his own, from Ioane's clever cross-kick. 

Admittedly, this wide-open game was made for Savea - but he sure didn't disappoint.

Man down

 

Hansen was coy about the circumstances that left his team playing the final 15 minutes with only 14 men on the paddock.

When Crotty departed, as planned, the All Blacks had run out of replacements, so they simply didn't bother.

At the time, Tonga were also short-handed, with Lousi in the sin bin, so the teams were evenly matched - numerically at least.

But perhaps Hansen also saw this as a chance to practice organising - offensively and defensively - while a man down.

After all, only a month ago, the All Blacks were obliged to play most of a test match without lock Scott Barrett and suffered a record defeat.

The All Blacks played with 14 men after Ryan Crotty scored his second try.
The All Blacks played with 14 men after Ryan Crotty scored his second try. Photo credit: Photosport

They faced the same predicament two years ago, when Sonny Bill Williams was ejected against the British & Irish Lions.

Cast your mind back to the Silver Ferns' 2003 Netball World Cup triumph, when their build-up reportedly included rehearsal of unforeseen circumstances, like playing a player down and even the stadium lights going out.

Sure enough, they were reduced to six players, when Temepara George (then Clark) was 'sin-binned' for two minutes in the final, which they won 49-47 over Australia.

Maybe the All Blacks just took a page out of that playbook.

Maybe.

Grant Chapman is Newshub's online sports editor.

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