The World Cup card epidemic has finally caught up with the All Blacks, props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi sinbinned for high tackles during their team’s 11-try romp over Namibia at Tokyo Stadium.
Given the number being handed out at this tournament, it had to happen sooner or later. Laulala was shown a yellow card for connecting with Namibia wing Lesley Klim’s head near the end of the first half and 40 minutes later replacement Tuungafasi was sinbinned for connecting with an opponent’s neck.
The Laulala decision at least was fairly clear-cut and neither he nor coach Steve Hansen should complain about referee Pascal Gauzere’s decision, the official deciding Klim’s falling motion into the tackle a mitigating factor against a red card.
Like many foul play decisions in Japan over the past couple of weeks it required a check from television match official Rowan Kitt, but to Gauzere’s credit he saw the collision live and asked his English colleague to check it.
It didn’t affect the All Blacks much as their opponents, ranked 23rd in the world, were beginning to feel the pinch at that stage, but it goes without saying that a card during a knockout match here has the potential to be far more damaging. Tuungafasi’s late in the match was clumsy but no more and it’s evident that tight forwards are struggling more than most to adjust their body height.
After a slightly uncertain start during which Jordie Barrett took a little while to find his feet at first-five in front of a fired-up Namibian defence, including hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld who was one of the best forwards on the park, the All Blacks found their groove and scored their bonus point try via Ben Smith just before halftime.
Seven more followed as the All Blacks’ new-look line-up settled four days after their 63-0 victory over Canada in Oita, but few things will please Hansen more than the sight of Brodie Retallick getting through 30 minutes as planned on his return from a dislocated shoulder.
Centre Jack Goodhue got through 61 minutes before making way for Rieko Ioane and while the All Blacks have incurred their first cards of the tournament, they have yet to lose a player to injury; another positive for Hansen and company.
The victory, which eclipses the 58-14 win scored by the All Blacks at the World Cup four years ago, lifts the All Blacks to the top of Pool B with a match against Italy in Toyota City on Saturday to come.
The hyper-aware Sevu Reece was over for the All Blacks after six minutes but it was another 15 before they scored another and the Namibians defended with spirit, trying all the while to slow the game to a more manageable pace; for which they were warned by Gauzere. Reece finished with two, with Anton Lienert-Brown and Ben Smith also scoring doubles.
Once the All Blacks found their rhythm they were close to unstoppable, with Barrett more than satisfactory at No 10, and second-five Lienert-Brown yet again one of the best backs on the field. Replacement lock Patrick Tuipulotu should be pleased with his shift and Ioane and Brad Weber sharp.
Of all their tries, their final one scored by TJ Perenara was the best; it was an extraordinary effort in the left corner following a no-look, behind-the-back pass from Weber and will be shown on highlight reels from now to the next World Cup and beyond.