New Zealand became the first team to officially qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals as they labored past Georgia 43-10.
Julian Savea scored a hat-trick but it was far from the perfect performance, and Richie McCaw worryingly limped off after an hour, as New Zealand took their foot off the gas after picking up the bonus point inside 21 minutes.
After that there were far too many knock-ons and handling errors, with a mostly second string Georgian team managing to stay in touch, as well as dominating at scrum-time.
It had looked like a stroll in the park for the Kiwis early on, with Waisake Naholo sprinting through and scoring with his first touch.
Beka Tsiklauri hit back immediately with an opportunistic try for Georgia but they struggled to create anything in attack.
Savea chipped in with two more before Dane Coles went over for a fourth for the fastest bonus point of the tournament so far.
But after that inaccuracy began to infiltrate the All Black game in arguably their most underwhelming display of the competition to date.
After half an hour without a try, they got their fifth through Kieran Read but lost McCaw with 20 minutes remaining.
Savea completed his hat-trick in the closing stages, before Malakai Fekitoa ran in New Zealand’s seventh try to add some gloss to the final scoreline.
It had all started so well, with Naholo on the score-sheet with his very first touch of the tournament, collecting the ball in midfield, stepping round Tamaz Mchedlidze and then sprinting over from halfway. Dan Carter added the conversion from in front to make it 7-0 almost immediately.
However Georgia drew level almost immediately in remarkable fashion through Tsiklauri. After Naholo lost the ball in midfield, Giorgi Begadze made a half-break. His pass didn’t go to hand, but Tsiklauri hacked through and then had the pace to get away from Brodie Retallick, collect the ball and go under the posts. Lasha Malaguradze converted from in front.
Tackling seemed to be optional in the opening exchanges, and New Zealand were in for their second after just seven minutes. A half-break from Sam Whitelock had the Georgians scrambling, and when the ball went wide, Savea was the man over, crossing for the simple try despite a last-gasp effort from Tsiklauri.
Carter missed the conversion for the touchline, and Georgia were soon back to within two points when Malaguradze nailed a long-range penalty from just inside the All Black half.
A knock-on in midfield ruined the next New Zealand opportunity, but they didn’t have to wait long for their third try. Georgia failed to number up in defence from a scrum ten metres out and New Zealand wheeled the scrum before spreading the ball for Savea’s second simple run-in. Again Carter was just off-target with his conversion.
The bonus point took just 21 minutes, with New Zealand taking a quick lineout and stretching the Georgian defence. A couple of lovely offloads from Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith had the Lelos scrambling, and when the ball came back to the right, Richie McCaw cut in before feeding Coles outside him for the try. From the other side, Carter pulled his conversion but New Zealand led 22-10.
While Georgia were completely over-matched in open play, they did at least have the upper hand in the scrum. When Read knocked on five metres out, they were able to earn a penalty to clear their lines, at least temporarily.
Having looked almost unstoppable with ball in hand for the opening quarter, New Zealand then proceeded to make countless handling errors, as they struggled to build on their lead before half-time.
New Zealand’s troubles continued early in the second half, with Naholo missing out on his second try when he was pushed into touch, while handling errors allowed Georgia to continue their dominance at the set-piece.
Georgia were struggling at the lineout though, and when they dummy jumped at one ten metres out, New Zealand took advantage to send Read over from close range. From in front Carter converted his second try of the game.
The introduction of New Zealand’s first choice props, combined with the departure of Levan Chilachava appeared to turn the tide at scrum-time, depriving Georgia of their only real weapon.
Carter’s miserable night of kicking was capped off when he kicked a penalty dead with ten minutes to go, symbolic of a desperate performance from the world champions.
With six minutes remaining, New Zealand finally scored their sixth try, turning a sloppy lineout into a try for Savea out wide with Georgia caught out of position. Carter converted from the touchline with his best kick of the night.
Georgian heads began to drop and New Zealand had another a couple of minutes later when Fekitoa spotted a gap in midfield and sprinted through
For New Zealand:
Tries: Naholo, Savea 3, Coles, Read, Fekitoa
Cons: Carter 4
- New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw(c) 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 TJ Perenara, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
- Georgia: 15 Beka Tsiklauri, 14 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 13 David Kacharava, 12 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 11 Alexandr Todua, 10 Lasha Malaguradze, 9 Giorgi Begadze, 8 Lasha Lomidze, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze (c), 6 Shalva Sutiashvili, 5 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 4 Levan Datunashvili, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Shalva Mamukashvili, 1 Karlen Asieshvili
Replacements: 16 Simon Maisuradze, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 Konstantin Mikautadze, 20 Viktor Kolelishvili, 21 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22 Merab Sharikadze, 23 Murazi Giorgadze
- Date: Friday, October 2
- Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
- Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
- Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Mathieu Raynal (France)
- TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
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