Such an emphatic win highlighted just how dangerous the All Blacks can be at full tilt, and with the sport’s biggest event just around the corner, the threat posed by the reigning world champions is becoming clearer and clearer to see.
With that in mind, here are a select few winners and losers from the 85-point drubbing.
Winner – George Bridge
A stunning display of running rugby from the test rookie saw him rack up an incredible stat sheet which read eight line breaks, 10 defenders beaten, 236 metres ran and, of course, a whopping four tries.
There’s still work to be done on his decision-making on the ball, as there were times when he probably should have looked for the pass rather than go himself, but against such a weak defence, it didn’t matter as Bridge’s pace and finishing prowess shone.
After Saturday afternoon’s performance and their compelling display against the Wallabies at Eden Park, both he and Sevu Reece look set for starting roles on either win at the World Cup.
Loser – Rieko Ioane
On the flip side of Bridge’s outstanding form is the demotion of Rieko Ioane from the match day squad.
He burst onto the professional scene as an exciting young talent, and he looked as if he was going to fulfil that potential after a barnstorming season with the All Blacks in 2017.
He continued that through to last year, yielding back-to-back World Rugby Player of the Year nominations, but two quiet outings against the Springboks and Wallabies in recent weeks has seen him fall behind Bridge, who has taken his opportunities sublimely, in the national pecking order.
Having been dropped from the All Blacks’ last two tests – both matches of which Bridge was a standout in – it’s beginning to look more and more likely that Ioane won’t be a starting winger in the key World Cup matches, something that nobody would have envisaged even just a few months ago.
Winner – Ryan Crotty
A broken thumb sustained in the Crusaders’ 30-26 Super Rugby final win over the Hurricanes in June had ruled Crotty out of action up until last weekend, and consequently, he missed the All Blacks’ entire Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup campaigns.
Playing in his place was Ngani Laumape, who continued the impressive form that he had built throughout the past two years in Super Rugby and at test level.
So good was Laumape that many expected the blockbusting midfielder to win a spot in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad, but when he was dropped for Crotty, who hadn’t played a test in 2019 but won the nod due to his leadership, versatility and experience, questions were asked of Steve Hansen’s selection.
Those qualms were alleviated in Hamilton as Crotty made a strong, injury-free return to bag a brace of tries and set up another in a 65-minute outing that will give New Zealand fans some reassurance regarding Hansen’s World Cup selections.
Loser – Tonga
No doubt this test would have been marked as a special occasion for everyone in the Tongan squad, as it is a rarity for the ‘Ikale Tahi to play against tier one opposition, let alone the All Blacks.
However, getting romped by 85 points may have been a dampener on a sunny afternoon at Waikato Stadium, with their severe lack of fixtures against stronger opposition glaringly obvious.
That’s not a fault of theirs – the blame for that should lay on World Rugby’s shoulders – but after head coach Toutai Kefu revealed his side’s aspirations of scalping England, Argentina, France and the USA to make a maiden World Cup quarter-final appearance earlier in the week, this result is a reality check for Tonga before they head into the ‘Pool of Death’.
Winner – Josh Ioane
Josh Ioane voiced his frustrations of a false start to his test career after he wasn’t subbed on for a test debut against Argentina in the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship opener in July.
He was subsequently dropped from the reduced Bledisloe Cup squad and didn’t make the final World Cup side, but a minor shoulder injury to Richie Mo’unga paved the way for Ioane to make a brief return to the squad for the Tonga test.
Named on the bench again, he was rolled on in place of Beauden Barrett at half-time, and made an immediate impact as he assisted a George Bridge try right from the re-start and went on to set up a further three tries in a stunning test debut.
Loser – World Rugby rankings
The All Blacks may have just registered their biggest victory in 11 years, but they’ve lost their place as the world’s No. 1 side to Ireland, who picked up a 19-10 victory over Wales in Dublin over the weekend.
The world ranking system has come under plenty of criticism in recent times after New Zealand, Wales and now Ireland have all spent time at the summit of world rugby, despite the Welsh having not beaten the All Blacks since 1953, and Ireland falling well off the pace they set for themselves over the last couple of seasons.
The 92-7 spanking of Tonga was a big statement from Hansen’s men going into the World Cup, and they, along with England and South Africa, must surely be viewed as the three title favourites in Japan.
The world rankings aren’t representative of that, though, as it will be Ireland rather than any of those three teams who will go into the tournament with the No. 1 ranking.
If World Rugby want to maintain credibility within the global game, this is something that needs to be fixed.
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