It was never all about the score for the All Blacks.
With every respect due to Canada, New Zealand had bigger goals in mind for their Rugby World Cup pool match under the Oita Dome’s roof than the handsome win that was expected and delivered with breathtaking blitzes at the start of each half on Wednesday.
The 63-0 result was a let-off for the outgunned semi-professionals from Canada, and another good night for New Zealand, ruthlessly pouring eight tries, plus a penalty try, through a defence that missed 46 tackles. Its second convincing win from two matches propelled it closer to moving its title defence into the quarter-finals.
The All Blacks had boxes to tick, and enjoyed making big ticks in them.
Dual playmakers Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf and Beauden Barrett at fullback, playing their fifth test together, ran rings around the Canadians. Mo’unga was the maestro director, and Barrett was brilliant counterattacking from the back. Their scissors move from a scrum gave replacement scrumhalf Brad Weber his second try. Mo’unga landed all eight of his goal kicks, and one from the sideline drew gasps from the entertained crowd of 34,411.
Barrett ran so much in the Pool B game that, when he had a second try in sight after the full-time hooter, he lost control of the ball five meters from the line because he ran out of energy. The ball was also slippery in the humid conditions, worse than if it had been rained on, Barrett said.
Beauden and brothers Scott and Jordie – all starters – supplemented their milestone as the second trio of brothers to play in the Rugby World Cup after the Vunipola brothers of Tonga in 1995, by all scoring tries.
“We’re blessed to have them,” coach Steve Hansen said.
The out-of-form Rieko Ioane went looking for work when the ball didn’t come to his left wing and he glided in for his 24th try in his 27th test just 45 seconds into the second half after a Jordie Barrett jump-catch, and another break by impressive inside centre Sonny Bill Williams. Ioane also moved into the centres with aplomb for the last half-hour while Williams was rested.
Williams made a sizable amount of the All Blacks’ 24 breaks (to Canada’s three), slicing through the defence to set up several tries and near-misses. He also reminded that he has a pretty good kicking game: His grubber kick was scored from by Beauden Barrett.
“He’s done that kick four times, and we’ve scored four times from it since 2011,” Hansen said. “He’s injury free and starting to look like the old Sonny.”
Other ticks: Midfielder Jack Goodhue put in 40 good cobweb-blowing minutes after a six-week injury layoff, and rising prop Atu Moli “came of age” playing the full 80, Hansen said, to allow tightheads Angus Ta’avao, Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi limited minutes to keep them fresh for Namibia on Sunday in Tokyo.
Hansen also hinted lock Brodie Retallick, who has been rehabilitating a dislocated left shoulder since July, may be ready to play, in four days.
New Zealand even made a little history. Beside the try-scoring Barrett brothers, replacement flanker Ardie Savea became the first player in Rugby World Cup history to play with goggles. The vision in his left eye is diminishing and he wears goggles to protect both eyes. With one of his first touches, he dropped a pass with only grass in front of him, and threw the goggles away.
“We have come away with some confidence about what we are trying to do, starting to build and grow,” Hansen said. “We have done a lot of work at training, way harder than we normally would. Those days off gave us that opportunity. We’ll bank that.”
The gulf in class between the teams was apparent in the first minute as the All Blacks almost scored from the kickoff, making Canada scramble to hold up TJ Perenara between the posts. The try eventually came in the fifth minute, a penalty try after captain Kieran Read was interfered with while the All Blacks drove Canada’s scrum five meters backward over its tryline.
That ignited the All Blacks into quick tries by Jordie Barrett and Williams, before they all got sloppy. But they were dominating almost every category and making most of the running. The All Blacks would make 15 handling errors, while achieving 94 carries over the gain-line to Canada’s 29.
Normal transmission resumed after the break, when the All Blacks were exhilarating with five tries in 17 minutes. They didn’t make a handling error in that time until the second half was 20 minutes old. The All Blacks didn’t score again, only because the pace they were playing at was too quick even for themselves, and passes were knocked on or forward to let the Canadians off the hook.
They took comfort in preventing any scoring for the final 21 minutes, and even found some humour. Replacement scrumhalf Weber had been baiting Canada captain Tyler Ardron that he was going to make a big tackle on his teammate from Super Rugby’s Chiefs. But Ardron got a big tackle on Weber. “The trouble was,” Ardron said, “I was off-side.”
New Zealand extended its perfect record in World Cups to 30 straight wins in the pool stage, and 16 straight wins against Tier Two opponents.
To all the talk about the All Blacks being diminished, Ardron just shook his head.
“They’re as good as ever,” he said.
Canada’s record against rugby’s royalty fell to 0-6-0, with four of those losses coming at the World Cup. It marked Canada’s first shutout at the hands of the All Blacks although the Canadian men have conceded more points to New Zealand on four occasions, losing 73-7 (in 1995), 68-8 (at the 2003 World Cup), 64-13 (in 2007) and 79-15 (at the 2011 World Cup).
In all, New Zealand has outscored Canada outscored 376-54. The closest match came in their first meeting when New Zealand downed the Canadian men 29-13 in the quarter-finals of the 1991 World Cup.