Dunedin (New Zealand) (AFP)
A shaken All Blacks struggled to fend off an under-prepared Fiji in Dunedin on Saturday, but four second-half tries from Dane Coles resulted in a flattering 57-23.
In a game the All Blacks had to get away with, it wasn’t the performance they wanted and it took 30 minutes of explosive closing to ensure there was no overflow.
As the final quarter approached, they were hanging on to 31-23 and coach Ian Foster said Fiji had exposed areas the All Blacks needed to work on.
“They had times in this game where they put a lot of pressure on us, but overall I’m happy with how we fared,” said Foster.
“This has highlighted a few areas that we will obviously need to clean up,” he added. “I thought we were really tested and challenged. “
The All Blacks had just come out of Super Rugby season and a warm-up match against Tonga, while the Fiji squad arrived from all over the world and only emerged this week from their 14-day quarantine. after arriving in New Zealand.
While the Fijians had little in-game training, they adopted a physical approach to the game that rocked the All Blacks.
Coach Vern Cotter said it was a performance they could build on ahead of next week’s second test.
“We showed courage, determination, guts, physique and a little bit of intelligence,” he said.
“What was really encouraging was that even though we were tired towards the end of the game, they still held our heads up and if we had scored a try at the end, and we weren’t far away, it would have been a moral victory for us. “
– Fiji starts stronger –
After their 102-0 win over Tonga last week, the All Blacks have made some drastic changes and arguably fielded a stronger team.
But it was the Fijians, with their frontal and murderous approach, who started the strongest and were on the board in the fifth minute with a penalty from Ben Volavola.
When the Barrett brothers responded with a try from Jordie converted by Beauden, Volavola closed the lead to 7-6 with a second penalty.
The All Blacks felt they opened a buffer with back-to-back tries from David Havili to lead 21-6 midway through the first half, but then found themselves pulled back in a Fiji roster which produced a try for Albert Tuisue.
A try from George Bridge early in the second half put the All Blacks 26-11 ahead, but Fiji continued to win the battle ahead and weren’t going to give up.
Mesulame Kunavula crashed to close the gap to 26-16, and when Dane Coles scored on his first try, the Fijian forwards fired back on offense and won a penalty try from a desperately defending All Blacks.
But from there, the All Blacks ended the game with three more tries at Coles and one at Will Jordan.
© 2021 AFP