All Blacks halfway to grand slam

England flexed their forward muscle against Australia on Saturday and gathered their confidence before meeting the rampant New Zealand rugby juggernaut next weekend.

In Saturday’s internationals, New Zealand outclassed Ireland 45-7 to be halfway to a grand slam, England barged aside Australia 26-16, France rubbed out Canada 50-6, Argentina defeated Scotland 23-19 on a late penalty try, and Italy thumped Tonga 48-0.

The All Blacks changed all 15 players from the record 41-3 rout of Wales, and yet the second XV were still untroubled to reach half-time 25-0 up on Ireland.

Wingers Sitiveni Sivivatu and Doug Howlett scored two tries each among New Zealand’s five, and two more were ruled out on video review at Lansdowne Road. Flyhalf Nick Evans booted over 20 points.

While Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan was impressed, he reminded the All Blacks that they were peaking again two years out from the next World Cup.

“There is a gulf in skill between ourselves and New Zealand. They were outstanding and probably better than they thought they would be on the day,” O’Sullivan said.

“We said before the game they’re the best team in the world and they’ve reinforced that for everyone else.
Their only problem is the World Cup is not for another two years yet. But they have so much competition for places and that’s a nice problem to have.”

O’Sullivan was not so happy when All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu picked up opposite Gordon D’Arcy off his feet and threw him head down. Nonu was penalised and D’Arcy eventually played on without complaint, but the incident was too reminiscent of the All Blacks’ controversial spear tackle in June that continues to sideline Irish star and captain Brian O’Driscoll.

“That sort of tackle is not something you want to see in the game, let’s not fool around,” O’Sullivan said. “Gordon was turned upside down and it’s not safe to do that to anybody. There’s no reason why it should happen.”

The All Blacks left Dublin with their unbeaten record against the Irish intact, and face England and Scotland next—and a prime opportunity to become the first New Zealand side in 27 years to complete a grand slam.

England warmed up by overpowering Australia’s pack, beating the Wallabies for the first time since the 2003 World Cup final and regaining the Cook Cup at Twickenham.

The English forwards dominated the set pieces, and prop Andrew Sheridan was named man of the match in his first England start.

“We set out to dominate possession and territory and it was very pleasing to come away with a victory,” said England captain Martin Corry. “Being brutally honest, maybe the score didn’t reflect the amount of ball we had.

“We know New Zealand is another step up next week. It is a whole different challenge.”

Australia levelled at 16-16, but replacement kicker Olly Barkley lifted England ahead with a penalty from halfway, and Mark Cueto’s converted try put out of reach Australian hopes of ending their losing streak, now at a record-tying seven.

Adding to Australia’s woes, prop Matt Dunning was stretchered off in a neck brace, but X-rays and a MRI scan cleared him of any spinal damage.

Under-fire captain George Gregan was sin-binned in the 26th minute, during which England scored their first try, and he was replaced by Chris Whitaker in the 66th, increasing the pressure on Wallabies coach Eddie Jones to axe the world’s most capped player.

In Nantes, flanker Julien Bonnaire scored two of France’s seven tries against Canada.

Flyhalf Frederic Michalak, centre David Marty, fullback Thomas Castaignede, hooker Sebastien Bruno and Pierre Mignoni also scored, and former captain Raphael Ibanez made his first appearance since the 2003 World Cup.

A late penalty try capped Argentina’s comeback at Murrayfield to remain unbeaten against Scotland since 1990.

Argentina trailed for most of the match and was 16-6 behind soon into the second half, but the Pumas’ fortunes turned when Scotland number eight Simon Taylor was sin-binned late in the last quarter.

Scotland replacement hooker Scott Lawson was caught kicking the ball out of a rolling scrum, and New Zealand referee Kelvin Deaker signalled a penalty try in the 70th minute. Federico Todeschini converted and Argentina spoiled the home debut of Scotland coach Frank Hadden.

In Prato, captain Marco Bortolami, Mirco Bergamasco and Josh Sole each scored two tries as Italy cruised past Tonga in Pierre Berbizier’s first home game as coach.

Italy scored seven tries overall, flyhalf Ramiro Pez made six of eight goal kicks, and the home side led 21-0 at half-time en route to a record victory over Tonga.

The day before, Wales’ attempt at rebounding from the All Blacks trouncing barely survived when the Six Nations champs had to come from behind to top Fiji 11-10.—Sapa-AP

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