All Blacks rout Namibia to move closer to World Cup quarters

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TOKYO — New Zealand moved closer to a ninth quarterfinals berth in nine Rugby World Cups after accounting for Namibia 71-9 on Sunday.

New Zealand, which has never lost a pool game, will play Italy next weekend to attempt a fourth straight win and sweep Pool B. The top two teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals.

Just four days after blitzing Canada 63-0, the All Blacks increased the highest score at this World Cup with a victory by 11 tries to nil at Tokyo Stadium.

The only negative for New Zealand was the yellow cards for props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi, both for arm tackles hitting the ball-carriers’ heads, though both times the Namibians were ducking down.

Still, being a man short for the end of both halves didn’t even register with the All Blacks, who scored four tries while down to 14 men.

“The first half was pretty disappointing. We didn’t turn up with the right attitude and Namibia made us pay for that. It’s a good lesson,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. “We ended up scoring (11) tries so there’s a lot to like about it.”

The Namibians were closer to full strength eight days after conceding 57 to South Africa, and gave New Zealand some bother in the first half. They restricted the All Blacks to two tries in the first 36 minutes. In their only previous matchup at the 2015 World Cup, New Zealand had the bonus-point fourth try inside 36 minutes.

Despite being outmuscled in the scrum, where New Zealand had an extra 10 kilograms per man, the Namibians tackled superbly, and held the ball for long periods to force penalties. Scrumhalf Damian Stevens kicked all three of his penalties to have them trailing only 10-9.

Moments later, Laulala was sin-binned, and the entertained crowd of 48,354 was buzzing. But nobody believed an upset was on the cards from the lowest ranked team in the tournament.

Especially not as New Zealand took better care of the ball, worked the phases, and stretched the Namibians as thin as pate to score tries through Angus Ta’avao, Laulala’s replacement, and fullback Ben Smith in injury time. Smith’s try was the bonus-point fourth and New Zealand led 24-9 at halftime.

The effort to tackle the rampant All Blacks told on Namibia, which conceded seven second-half tries at a regular clip. The best was probably the last in the 78th, when replacement TJ Perenara offloaded to George Bridge to start another attack down the left touchline.

Perenara quickly got up to watch Rieko Ioane offload to Brad Weber, who fed Perenara with a reverse behind-the-back pass. As Perenara was smashed in the left corner by Namibia flyhalf Helarius Kisting, he just had enough momentum to plant the ball beside the flag.

Given a dominant platform up front, the All Blacks backs shone. Jordie Barrett, starting his first test at flyhalf to give Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett a rest, directed play well, scored a try and nailed eight conversions, some of them from sharp angles. Inside center Anton Lienert-Brown charged the gain-line well for two tries, and center Jack Goodhue straightened the attack well to reset the All Blacks.

Lock Brodie Retallick, playing his first test in 10 weeks after a dislocated left shoulder, played only 30 minutes but was effective carrying the ball, and a made chargedown. During halftime, he did shuttle runs behind the posts with Laulala.

The Namibians took a beating, literally, from an All Blacks pack that was warned at halftime to get its act together and respect the ball. The result was a ferocity the Namibians couldn’t stay with, and players were frequently coming off in the second half holding something sore, while All Blacks were substituted out to give others a run.