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The Pool B encounter at the Tokyo Stadium lived up to expectations, with the All Blacks running in 11 tries, saving the best for last against a Namibia side that was much better value than the 71-9 scoreline suggests.
Yes, this may have been biggest victory of the World Cup so far, but to tell the true story, you have to acknowledge that Namibia first took the lead of the match, and New Zealand’s advantage with 34 minutes gone was just a single point.
The All Blacks showed plenty of changes, 12 in total to the starting XV, with Jordie Barrett getting his first run-out at fly-half, but with names such as Lienert-Brown, Whitelock and both Ben and Aaron Smith in the side, this was always going to go one way.
But for 34 wonderful minutes, there were faint dreams of an upset. New Zealand scored the opener five minutes in through Sevu Reece, though a Damian Stevens penalty had put Namibia in front to punish what was a very ill-disciplined start from the reigning world champions. With New Zealand signalling their intent by sending their first penalty to the corner, Barrett sent an inch-perfect cross-field kick to Reece to score comfortably.
It took 15 minutes though for the All Blacks to cross again, with the stand-out Anton Lienert-Brown released by Ardie Savea’s smart inside ball and the centre produced a beautiful finish from distance to score.
With Barrett missing both conversions though, Namibia remained in touch and two more penalties from Stevens in quick succession cut the lead to a point at the half-hour mark. With tighthead prop Nepo Laulala also sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Prince Gaoseb, Namibia dared to dream. Furthermore, Steve Hansen stuck to his plan to bring Brodie Retallick off after 30 minutes in what was his first run out since dislocating his shoulder against South Africa in July.
But perhaps the only thing more dangerous than a 15-man All Blacks side is a 14-man All Blacks side.
Replacement prop Angus Ta’avao and Ben Smith both went over for relatively simple tries during the sin-bin period, with Barrett finding his kicking boots to see his side win that 10-minute phase 14-0, and as Ben Smith dived over to add the fourth and seal the bonus point on the stroke of half-time, normality resumed with New Zealand leading 24-9 at the break.
It was not perhaps the half-tim
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