Rugby World Cup 2019
New Zealand 71-9 Namibia
For three minutes, Welwitschias were in dreamland as the scoreline read Namibia 3, New Zealand 0. After half-an-hour, the huge underdogs were still skipping through their fantasy world at Tokyo Stadium, within one point of the world champions
Of course, it could never last – and it didn’t. The world champions gradually shook off a slovenly opening to tilt the rugby world back onto its axis and run out 71-9 winners with 11 tries, a result which puts them firmly in control of pool B.
The All Blacks had two props, Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi, sent to the sin-bin, and it still did not stop them scoring four tries with just 14 men.
Two tries apiece for Player of the Match Anton Lienert-Brown, Ben Smith and Sevu Reece as well other scores from Angus Ta’avao, Joe Moody, captain Sam Whitelock, fly-half-for-a-day Jordie Barrett and TJ Perenara made it a familiar-looking scoreline at the end.
Some of the All Blacks’ fare near the end was champagne stuff, especially the last try when Brad Weber put Perenara away for a diving score in the corner with the most outrageous behind-the-back pass.
Yet though the All Blacks recorded their most points in a World Cup game since they scored 79 against Canada in 2011 and the most by any team at this edition, the day had more to do with the unsung band of amateurs and no-name journeymen from the African team that had never won a World Cup match.
At the end, the capacity crowd of 48,354 saluted both sets of teams as they took a bow and offered one too.
For sweet moments, especially after scrum-half Damian Stevens had booted them ahead with a penalty after three minutes to give the scoreboard the most surreal feel, this was Namibia’s afternoon, a famous one to put up there with the match played out at London’s Olympic Stadium four years before when Johan Deysel had ploughed over the New Zealand line in an heroic 58-14 defeat.
Here, inspired by little Stevens and their splendid 32-year-old hooker Torsten Van Jaarsveld, the lowest-ranked side in the tournament at number 23 matched the No.1 side blow for blow for half an hour and when New Zealand prop Nepo Laulala was yellow-carded for a swinging arm on winger Lesley Klim on the 30-minute mark, they were 10-9 down with the champions reduced to 14 men.
It had been stirring stuff, but after Stevens’s initial penalty, the All Blacks began to power away with Reece dotting down shortly after through Jordie Barrett’s fine cross-kick, a superb first contribution from the fly-half who had never played test rugby at number 10.
When Lienert-Brown roared through three challenges to score a second and put New Zealand 10-3 ahead, it seemed normality had returned after the Namibian second-row PJ Van Lill had threatened the New Zealand line, even rousing the largely All Black-supporting crowd into a show of support.
But Namibia would not lie down and took advantage of New Zealand’s indiscipline, with Stevens kicking two more penalties to put them within a point and Laulala’s trip to the sin-bin giving them even more hope.
Then New Zealand started to rouse themselves. Though a man short, they powered over twice before half-time to seal their bonus point through replacement prop Ta’avao and Ben Smith, who ploughed over after a multi-phase move.
After the break, the tries flowed for New Zealand. When captain for the day, Whitelock, burrowed over a score, it was the perfect way to mark his record of becaming the first man to win 17 successive World Cup matches.
Barrett grew in his new role and joined in the try-fest to accumulate 21 points. Even big brother Beauden had never scored more than 19 in a World Cup test.