New Zealand beats Tonga to open Rugby World Cup

Tonga’s Kurt Morath tackles New Zealand All Blacks’ Ma’a Nonu (L) during their Rugby World Cup Pool A match at Eden Park in Auckland on Friday.

September 09, 2011, Friday/ 16:22:00

The New Zealand All Blacks took care of business with a 41-10 win over Tonga to open the World Cup on Friday night, beginning yet another quest to end the long drought since their first and only title at rugby’s showpiece event.

After a rousing opening ceremony and passionate pre-match challenges, the All Blacks drained all the tension and anticipation by scoring four tries in the first 33 minutes, and finding the Tongans wanting out wide. But after taking a 29-3 lead into halftime, New Zealand failed to capitalize on long periods in Tonga’s half by giving away penalties against the prideful Pacific neighbors and dropping crucial passes.

While there wasn’t a signature moment to kickstart the tournament like John Kirwan’s 80-meter try against the Italians the last time New Zealand opened the cup on home soil in 1987, a host nation starved of a cup triumph could feel satisfied to move one win closer to a second title.

“It was a start, I think that’s all we can look at it as,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said. “There were definitely some good patches. Perhaps in the second half, we spent a bit of time in their 22 and we didn’t actually capitalize.

“I thought we brought physicality, our defense was reasonably good. It was a bit disappointing to let them score but we had to defend for a while.”

McCaw said after the frantic start, the All Blacks let themselves down. “It’s easy to get a bit loose,” he said. “Perhaps we just expected it to happen, especially as we made breaks and weren’t ruthless. That’s a bit disappointing. “We’re just excited about getting under way tonight, it’s a long time coming.”

Tonga’s renowned physical threat was negated by a more aggressive New Zealand defense which didn’t concede a try until near the end, and only after a long, sustained assault.

Fullback Israel Dagg and winger Richard Kahui both scored a pair of tries in a dazzling 22-minute period of the first half, but only Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu crossed in the second. Tonga replacement prop Alisona Taumalolo burrowed under the All Blacks forwards in between New Zealand’s second-half tries.

“I think the ABs started very well. Every time we made mistakes they scored points,” Tonga skipper Finau Maka said. “The boys came out in the second half firing, and I thought we defended well. We showed we can defend well and score a try against the best team.

Fans mob Auckland for opening

On the opening day of the seventh World Cup, dozens of performers of the traditional Maori war dance wowed crowds in two cities as New Zealanders shed their reserved image by transforming downtown Auckland into a party zone with a distinctly Pacific feel. Tens of thousands of rugby fans flooded the streets, draped in the flags of their favorite teams. Some brought guitars, others sang their national anthems. One man used hair spray and lacquer to paint his shaved head in black with a silver fern, in support of the New Zealand All Blacks team. Hundreds of cars cruised through the city with flags waving and horns blaring.

So many people lined up to get onto Queen’s Wharf on the Auckland harbor front to watch festivities that authorities were forced to start turning them away within 30 minutes of the wharf opening, when it hit a capacity crowd of 12,000. Thousands more jammed into the Viaduct Harbor to watch the arrival of 20 waka -- traditional Maori canoes -- a 600-person haka, and a concert headlined by New Zealand musicians Tim and Neil Finn. The opening ceremony at Eden Park featured a stylized sequence in which a young boy in a rugby jersey smashed through crowds of would-be tacklers who fell at his feet like skittles. The ceremony paid tribute to Maori creation myths, New Zealand’s spectacular scenery and Auckland’s obsession with sailing with dream-like sea sequences. It was spectacular by comparison with the low-budget opener featuring marching girls which was hastily put together for the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, which New Zealand also hosted.

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