By Greg Stutchbury
TOKYO (Reuters) – Defending champions New Zealand racked up the biggest points tally of the Rugby World Cup so far by running in 11 tries to hammer a spirited Namibia side 71-9 and charge back to the top of Pool B on Sunday.
The bonus point was secured before half time and although there might be concern at yellow cards shown to Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi for high tackles, the All Blacks look in ominous form heading into their last pool match against Italy.
Outstanding centre Anton Lienert-Brown, flying winger Sevu Reece and fullback Ben Smith all scored two tries and Jordie Barrett, making a first test start at flyhalf, also crossed and kicked eight conversions.
Namibia, who have never won a World Cup match in 22 attempts, opened the scoring and drew within one point at 10-9 after half an hour but bridging the huge gulf in class was beyond them and their physical challenge waned as they tired.
After proving hard to put away in their only other meeting at the last World Cup when the All Blacks won 58-14, the Africans again proved competitive for much of the first half.
Hooker Torsten Van Jaarsveld and captain Johan Deysel gave them momentum while they also frustrated New Zealand at the breakdown by slowing down their ball or interfering with Aaron Smith’s delivery to the backs.
The crowd of more than 48,000 also had plenty to cheer about with Damian Stevens slotting three penalties and bringing Namibia to 10-9.
Laulala was then sinbinned and while the crowd might have thought they could be witness to one of the great World Cup upsets, the All Blacks went up a gear.
They controlled the ball better through phases and replacement prop Angus Ta’avao and Smith both crossed to give them a 24-9 lead at halftime and momentum well and truly shifted.
The All Blacks, who scored four tries in the opening 10 minutes of the second half against Canada on Wednesday, added three inside the first 12 on Sunday with Joe Moody smashing over before Lienert-Brown and Reece added their second tries.
Captain Sam Whitelock, who had not scored an international try in three years, then brought up the half century when he planted the ball at the bottom of the posts.
The effects of their physical efforts in the first half began to take its toll in the second on Namibia’s players with several being taken off with upper body injuries.
The All Blacks scored three further tries in the final 12 minutes with Smith adding his second before Barrett crossed and took his personal tally to 21 points.
TJ Perenara then finished off the try of the match with a sensational dive in the corner from a sweeping movement that he started inside the All Blacks’ 22-metre area.
(Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)