Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland was the venue for an international encounter between New Zealand and Tonga as the preparations for this seasons World Cup got underway in much anticipated encounter in front of a sell-out crowd.
This was the seventh meeting between the two rivals, but the first since June 2019, with New Zealand having won all but one of the past encounters, Tonga picking up their only win with a 28-22 victory in 2017.
The atmosphere was electric as dusk fell and the two sides performed their Haka´s before going into battle.
It took three minutes of ferocious onslaught for the Kiwi´s to register the first points with Jerome Hughes taking a bullet pass and stepping off the left foot to go in by the right upright from ten metres out with a sensational turn of pace. Jordan Rapana added the extras, the Kiwi´s setting out their stall early on.
The second try was added on seven minutes with a long range try, Rapana on hand to take the final pass and canter in under the sticks from thirty metres out. The New Zealand winger added the conversion for 12-0, a startling start to the game.
Tonga struck back on fourteen with a great passing move, moving the ball from left to right with Sione Katoa taking a Moses Suli pass to round outside the New Zealand winger and score in the corner. The Katoni Staggs kick was good from the touchline was on target, the arrears halved.
The vociferous crowd were firing both sides and they were delivering an epic opening to the game.
A Rapana penalty goal on twenty-four illustrated the Kiwi concern as they moved to an eight-point lead as the rain started to fall.
With twenty-nine on the clock Christian Tuipulotu was sin-binned for a professional foul as he chased down Rapana and held him down in the tackle. Three tackles in from the penalty a flying Ronaldo Mulitalo grounded one-handed in the left corner with his entire body airborne over the touchline. Rapana added a difficult conversion for 20-6.
The start to the second half was a little lower octane than the first and it took twenty-one minutes for the Kiwis to break the deadlock. A short pass from James Fisher-Harris in front of the sticks found Isaiah Papali´i who rode the tackle and stretched to ground on the line. Rapana added the extras for 26-6, New Zealand with the win in the bag.
Marata Niukore was held up over the line with ninety seconds on the clock, no points in the last effort of the half, New Zealand with the spoils after just a single try in the second half.
It would have been impossible for these two entertaining sides to maintain the pace and intensity of the first half and the try for New Zealand on the hour mark took the wind out of Tonga´s sails. In the end it was a comprehensive win for the Kiwi´s and demonstrates why they are second favourites to lift the World Cup in November. Tonga will be favourites to top their group and then look to spring a surprise or two in the knockout phase.
New Zealand: Manu, Mulitalo (T), Niukore, Hiku, Rapana (T, 5G), Brown, Hughes (T), Bromwich J, Smith, Fisher-Harris, Papali´i (T), Bromwich K, Tapine. Subs: Foran, Leota, Asofa-Solomona, Nikora. 18th: Riki.
Tonga: Koula, Tuipulotu (SB on 29), Penisini, Suli, Katoa (T), Staggs (G), Amone, Fonua-Blake, Havili, Taukeiaho, Tupouniua, Koloamatangi, Tuamalolo. Subs: Luke, Olakau´atu, Tatola, Fotuaika. 18th: Ofahengaue.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 12-4, 12-6, 14-6, 18-6, 20-6 : HT : 24-6, 26-6 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: New Zealand.
Referee: Grant Atkins.