LONDON: This was the All Blacks purring rather than roaring. Like a cat half-heartedly playing with a mouse, the world champions toyed with Namibia, intermittently inflicting a bit of punishment but not completely snuffing the life out of their plaything in their World Cup fixture played at Olympic Park.
Indeed, this mouse bit back. In a World Cup where the underdogs have been attacking anything that moves like a pack of rapid hyenas, there was another moment for the minnows to savour in the 51st minute when Johan Deysel, the centre, skittled two All Blacks as he barrelled his way over the tryline. As moral victories go, that was as big as they come for the tournament’s bottom ranked nation with a playing base of 1,080 against the world No 1.
Rarely can a nine-try victory have felt less satisfying for New Zealand. Their handling was poor in patches and Namibia frequently caused them problems at the breakdown. Even for a team showing 12 changes from that opening victory, 16 turnovers is a far from flattering figure against a Namibian side comprised of engineers, farmers, dentists and a few professionals.
“It was frustrating,” Steve Hansen, the head coach, admitted. “But we got a good 80 minute hit into us. Now 29 out of our 30 players have played, we have got no injuries and scored nine tries. When I say frustrating, I think in the last 20 minutes there were 40 incidents of the game being played. It is very hard to play rugby when you get a stop-start game like that.”
Nevertheless, Sonny Bill Williams backed up his eye-catching cameo against Argentina with another impressive performance. His ability to break the gainline and offload – the qualities Stuart Lancaster is desperately hoping his fellow convert Sam Burgess will show against Wales – was too much for Namibia to cope with at times. There is no shame in that. When on song, Williams poses questions no defence can answer.
Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea, the wings, also grabbed a couple of tries apiece, but New Zealand never racked up the cricket score many expected. That they didn’t owed largely to the efforts of Namibia’s shaggy haired flankers Jacques Burger and Tinus du Plessis who combined to make 27 tackles. Both departed the field with blood streaming from their faces, but pride firmly intact.
“I said earlier to somebody, as soon as you don’t enjoy days like this and as soon as you don’t find any pride in playing the All Blacks, then you can stop playing this game,” Burger, the captain, said. “Half of these boys are eight to fivers. Playing against the All Blacks and facing the haka was a special moment.
“I am glad that uncertainty is over. The boys realise it is just another 15 men you are playing against . It is like the uncertainty of the deep ocean. You don’t know what is under the water so you are a bit afraid of it.”
It was looking ominous for Namibia when they were 10-0 down six minutes in having touched the ball just three times, Victor Vito bagging the first try. Milner-Skudder soon got in on the act, highlighting his wonderful footwork, but Namibia refused to roll over. Indeed they earned a couple of penalties in the first half that Theuns Kotze converted even if New Zealand added further tries through Malakai Fekitoa – after a sumptuous offload by Williams – Beauden Barrett and Milner Skudder.
With 660 caps in experience to call upon from the bench, you would have expected New Zealand to rack up the tries in the second half. Instead, Namibia continued to defy them, Du Plessis earning a penalty at the breakdown that Kotze kicked.
Savea got his first try of the tournament, but the moment of the match arrived when Namibia turned down a shot at goal for a kick to the corner. Possession secured, they spread the ball right before Eugene Jantjies switched direction with a long pass for Deysel to crash over. The crowd acclaimed it as loudly as any England try at Twickenham.
The All Blacks spent most of the rest of the game camped on the Namibia line but their resistance was stout. Ben Smith finished one move but until Savea got his second with five minutes remaining, Namibia were only losing the second half 12-8. Considering their resources, that should rank among the the greatest achievements at the World Cup.
Even if Codie Taylor’s try at the death could not take the gloss off their efforts, which had more than earned the respect of Hansen. “It was a special occasion against a side we had never played before,” Hansen said. “They will go and have a couple of quiet ones in the changing rooms with us. We will spend some quality time with them. I think that’s the key thing for tonight and we will get to work on the analysis and the selection side of things tomorrow.” – [The Telegraph]