Tony Kemp reviews Kiwis v Tonga game

Author
Radio Sport, NZ Herald,
Section
League,
Publish Date
Monday, 24 June 2019, 10:54AM
Kiwis player Shaun Johnson scores against Tonga. (Photo / Photosport)

Kiwis 34 Tonga 14

The Kiwis gained their Utu. New Zealand has a new star at hooker. And Shaun Johnson made the best possible return to Mt Smart.

They were the key points from a memorable night at Mt Smart, where the Kiwis were too good for a passionate but disorganised Tongan side, prevailing 34-14.

The contest wasn't as close as most would have wanted, but was still a wonderful occasion, thanks to Tonga's magnificent fans.

They again created an atmosphere unequalled in New Zealand sport, particularly in the first half.

Hooker Brandon Smith was outstanding for the Kiwis. He created mayhem with his runs from dummy half, defended like a demon, and his kick to set up the Kiwis fourth try demonstrated his vision and composure.

Shaun Johnson enjoyed a vintage night back in Auckland with a hat-trick, terrorising the Tongan edge defence while halves partner Benji Marshall kicked and organised well.

Kiwis player Shaun Johnson scores against Tonga. Photosport

But the game was won up front. The Kiwis matched, then neutralised Tonga's big men, who probably missed the leadership of Andrew Fifita, and their superior ruck speed gradually wore down the Pacific Island team. And as expected, Tonga's inexperience in the halves was telling, as they lacked structure.

Prop turned five eighth John Asiata particularly struggled, and was ruthlessly targeted, with four tries scored down his edge.

In contrast the Kiwis defence was almost impregnable, a brick wall of black and white until the final 10 minutes.

Jason Taumalolo didn't lead the Sipi Tau – like he had in Hamilton – and the teams were kept further apart than on that day, when they had ended up nose to nose.

But both traditional dances were performed with blood curdling intensity and set the scene for a thunderous opening. It didn't disappoint, with collisions that were probably heard in neighbouring suburbs.

Tonga players celebrate the try of Solomone Kata. Photosport

Tonga players celebrate the try of Solomone Kata. Photosport

Smith opened the scoring, with an impressive solo try in the 11th minute. The Waiheke Island product beat four defenders on a 35m run from dummy half, showing the pace and determination that has become his hallmark.

That helped to douse some early Tongan spark, after the men in red had enjoyed the best of a rousing opening period. It was blood and thunder, fire and brimstone, everything you would expect.

Ken Maumalo ran over the top of three tacklers, while huge Tongan prop Addin Fonua Blake made his presence felt. There was also physical carnage; Manu Ma'u went down after being steamrolled, then Jesse Bromwich was prone for a period after being sandwiched on the Tongan line.

In the midst of such ferocity, Tongan church hymns would be sung, giving a surreal atmosphere to the occasion.

After sustained pressure – with two players held up over the line in one set – the levee finally broke for Tonga, with Solomone Kata scampering across in the corner after the Kiwis couldn't deal with a well-directed kick to the corner.

That should have been the signal for Tonga to lift, but instead the Kiwis found another gear. Smith was a menace, Maumalo continued his club form and Johnson was the beneficiary, taking advantage of hesitant defence on Tonga's left edge.

It wasn't really a fair contest, as transplanted prop Asiata was twice caught as Johnson dummied, then accelerated close to the line.

The Kiwis continued their momentum into the second half, with a Brandon Smith break and grubber creating Johnson's third try.

That took the wind out of Tonga – and most of the 23,624 crowd – before Jahrome Hughes crossed on the hour, again splitting weak left edge defence.

From there it threatened to become a procession, with Joseph Manu taking advantage of tired Tongan defence to stroll across, before Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Daniel Tupou scored deserved late consolation tries for Tonga.

Kiwis 34 (S Johnson 3, B Smith, J Hughes, J Manu tries; E Marsters 5 goals)
Tonga 14 (S Kata, S Taukeiaho, D Tupou tries; Taukeiaho goal)
Halftime: 16-4

 

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