All Blacks crush valiant Portugal

Odds-on World Cup favourites New Zealand brushed aside a spirited but hopelessly outclassed Portugal 108-13 in a Pool C game on Saturday, but it was not all plain sailing for the All Blacks.

The Kiwis scored 16 tries through Joe Rokocoko (2), Isaia Toeava, Ali Williams, Aaron Mauger (2), Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, Andrew Hore, Brendan Leonard, Nick Evans, Andrew Ellis, Leon MacDonald, Conrad Smith (2) and Carl Hayman.

Evans also kicked 14 conversions for a personal points haul of 33.

But Portugal, the last of the 20 teams to qualify for the World Cup and with only three professionals in the match-day squad of 22, never gave up in the blistering heat at a 40 729 sell-out Stade Gerland.

Goncalo Malheiro scored a drop-goal in the first half, while replacement prop Rui Cordeira claimed a pushover try early in the second period that was converted by Duarte Pinto, who also claimed a late penalty.

Although New Zealand’s physical superiority was evident throughout the match, the opening 25 minutes were littered with numerous individual errors, such as knock-ons and missed tackles, against the World Cup debutants.

Portugal started bravely and lasted longer than Italy before conceding a try, recalled winger Joe Rokocoko spotting a gap and searing through it to touch down in the third minute.

A series of uncharacteristic handling errors from the All Blacks was remedied after Rokocoko took a quick line-out to MacDonald, received the return pass and jinked his way through for his second try.

A rare foray into Kiwi territory after an interception saw All Black scrumhalf Leonard just beat winger Antonio Aguilar from latching on to a kick through by Malheiro.

But the diminutive outside-half set the Stade Gerland alight when he dropped a goal two minutes later.

The delight was short lived, however, as the All Blacks scored five converted tries in nine minutes.

Toeava, Williams, Mauger, captain Collins and Masoe were all benefactors of a dogged but desperate Portugal defence that at times left them cruelly exposed out wide.

Hore beat off a string of tackles to crash over on the stroke of half-time, 52-3 to the All Blacks, sporting 11 changes from the team that thrashed Italy 76-14.

Portugal came out for the second period galvanised by replacement outside-half Pinto, but it was Aguilar who caused panic in All Black defences.

The winger broke Leonard’s tackle in midfield, drew the defence and grubbered to the corner. Rokocoko knocked on and from the resulting series of rucks, Cordeiro was driven over for a try converted by Pinto.

New Zealand, struggling to find some cohesion, hit back immediately with a try by Leonard, but then went 10 minutes without scoring as Portugal battled gamely.

The dam broke, however, with the outstanding Collins instrumental in tries for Evans and Andrew Ellis, while Mauger claimed his second. MacDonald, Smith (2) and Hayman also crossed past the flagging Portuguese defence.—AFP

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