There were nine tries for the All Blacks, including two each for the wings Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea, but as World Cup routs go, it could have been an awful lot worse for Namibia, the lowest-ranked team in the competition.
Namibia were the last team to play their first match in this World Cup, having had a week in England to contemplate playing the world champions and world’s No 1 ranked team. A great challenge, worth experiencing, was the Africans’ stated attitude, even if others decry or fret over such mismatches.
When New Zealand’s fly-half Beauden Barrett, starting in place of for Dan Carter as one of 11 changes from the win over Argentina last Sunday, kicked a penalty goal in the fifth minute there were boos from the Olympic Stadium’s second 50,000-plus crowd on successive evenings. But some of the normal rules of spectator participation were reversed – a big cheer when Namibia chose to kick their first penalty award, against the All Blacks’ loosehead prop Ben Franks for holding on. Fly-half Theuns Kotze, a 28-year-old veteran of the 2011 World Cup who spent last season with Bourg en Bresse in the French third division, converted the kick from 40 metres’ distance to great acclaim. An interception by JC Greyling and a hefty tackle by Johan Deysel on Barrett were cheered too.
All the while, of course, New Zealand were unfussily racking up points, with tries to Victor Vito, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Malakai Fekitoa in the opening quarter – the last of them made by Sonny Bill Williams with a burst onto a short ball and a sweet offload before Namibia’s talisman flanker and captain Jacques Burger could get near enough to smash him. Then Barrett gave Deysel some payback with a run direct to the posts off a line-out, leaving Burger and Kotze trailing, to bring up the All Blacks’ four-try bonus point in the 31st minute.
Maybe the best ticket to have was behind the posts at the north or south end, to appreciate the All Blacks’ straight running lines, whether the carrier was Williams, Julian Savea on the left wing or, almost as likely, one of the multi-skilled front five. Although one line-out went astray in an attacking position, New Zealand’s forwards had little to worry about in the scrum other than to drive straight through their mostly amateur opponents and wait for Romain Poite to signal a penalty.
Kotze had his third penalty goal three minutes into the second half, but Milner-Skudder with a skilful one-handed finish and Savea more muscularly had taken New Zealand’s try count to six – Savea with the 31st try of his 37-cap career to end a barren run by his high standards of three scoreless Tests.
What was needed to raise the lavishly latticed roof was a Namibia try. It came in the 51st minute with lovely handling among the forwards and a bullocking run by the scorer, Deysel, who celebrated with a mighty fist pump, three days before his 24th birthday on Sunday.
A yellow card to prop Jaco Engels was the last thing Namibia needed and as Richie McCaw led the entries from a frighteningly powerful bench, Ben Smith scored after 61 minutes, followed over by Savea and the hooker Codie Taylor, but the All Blacks stalled rather than stampeded home - to the eternal credit of the liberally bloodied Burger and his mates.
New Zealand: C Slade (B Smith, 52); N Milner-Skudder, M Fekitoa, SB Williams (M Nonu, 62), J Savea; B Barrett, TJ Perenara; B Franks, C Taylor, C Faumuina, L Romano, S Whitelock (K Read, 52), J Kaino (R McCaw, 62), S Cane (capt), V Vito.
Namibia: J Tromp; D Philander (C Viviers, 58-68), JC Greyling, J Deysel, C Marais (C Botha, 46); T Kotze, E Jantjies (E Buitendag, 73); J Engels, T van Jaarsveld (L van der Westhuizen, 73), J Coetzee (R Larson, 48-60, 68-73), PJ van Lill, T Uanivi, J Burger (capt; J Venter, 66), T du Plessis, L Damens (R Bothma, 46).
Referee: R Poite (France).