All Blacks grind out solid start
New Zealand made a convincing start to their World Rugby Classic campaign with a 14-7 win over France at a wet and windy North Field.
The All Blacks, well beaten in last year’s final by the Lions 22-5, looked solid, if unspectacular, in difficult conditions in the second match of last night’s double-header.
They took the lead through Samoan Seilala Mapusua, who crashed over the try line after a neat link-up with Riki Flutey, the former England fly half, in the twelfth minute, with Willie Walker making no mistake from the conversion.
Despite having the wind against them, the All Blacks looked to be firmly in control, quickly extinguishing even the briefest glimpses of the attacking flair for which the French are famed.
A nasty collision involving Alexandre Audebert halted the match for about ten minutes, with the French flanker being stretchered off with a suspected broken leg towards the end of the half. When play resumed, New Zealand added a second try when Paul Miller bashed his way through, with Walker kicking the extra points to give the All Blacks a 14-0 lead going into the interval.
A period of torrential rain forced those spectators seated in the bleachers rushing for cover during the break, where they remained until well into a largely uneventful second half.
France did at least manage to register a try of their own late on through Goderzi Shvelidze, which was converted by Andre Hough.
Andrew Mehrtens, the All Blacks icon, has travelled to Bermuda for the Classic and was supporting his team from the sidelines last night.
“I ran a tee on and they didn’t want it for the kicks, they took drop kicks, so I tried to occupy my time by taking out water and some drinks to [the players],” said Mehrtens, his country’s second all-time top scorer.
“They say it’s always a very tough game first up and France are big and physical. It was slippery in the conditions and I thought both teams threw everything into it.”
A flurry of first-half tries from Lucas Borges, Nicolas Bruzzone and Federico Serra gave Argentina a 19-0 lead against the United States in last’s opening match.
The US had enjoyed plenty of possession with some nifty passing, but continually left the back door open allowing themselves to be punished by their more clinical opponents.
Argentina scored a fourth try in the 32nd minute through Santiago Van der Ghotte, but the US continued to pose problems going forward, with Fred Wintermantel finishing a free-flowing move and Luis Tulio converting.
Any hopes the US may have had of mounting an unlikely comeback were quickly quashed by German Villamil who added a fifth try for Argentina before the US scored a late consolation by Tulio who wriggled his through at the death to make it 33-14.
Rodolfo Ventura, the Argentina manager, said he was encouraged by his side’s eye-catching rugby.
“It’s always very important to win the first match as it hinges the week,” he said.
“I thought we did well and we will see what follows. We found the spaces and a way to penetrate; I think this year we can play with our hands and speed.
“We believe every year we have a more competitive team than the year before. That has to be demonstrated on the field.”
The first semi-final will be held tomorrow between Lions and South Africa at 8.30pm, with Italy facing Canada in the Plate semi-final at 7.15pm.
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