NEW Zealand should be winning this World Cup without having to engage anything that looks remotely like its highest gear, but it was the uncomfortable grinding sound of metal on metal that characterised a discordant 47-9 win over a determined Tongan side.
The most dominant team in sporting history, as the All Blacks like to call themselves, is meant to have relieved itself of the tendency to evaporate in the face of the most intense pressure.
Ben Smith opened the scoring with a try after 20 minutes and the reigning world champions added six more, with Ma'a Nonu rounding off the scoring as he won his 100th cap, as the All Blacks cantered to victory in the second half.
But this was still a comforting evening for their rivals. A narrow, 14-3 lead at half-time is the statistic most worth remembering, and with the All Blacks down to 14 players, too, Kieran Read having earned a deserved yellow card for collapsing a maul.
Champions are permitted the occasional dip but this empty, stuttering encounter merely emphasised the gulf between this and the energy and execution laid on by Australia against England at Twickenham last week - a class apart.
If the Wallabies lived up to last week's highs in their mouthwatering clash against Wales overnight, they would surely have established themselves as the team to beat.
The All Blacks might always carry that honour, but first they must conspire not to defeat themselves.
Against Tonga they did not quite do it.
- THE INDEPENDENT
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