All Blacks score eight tries against Japan
New Zealand's Northern Hemisphere tour opened with a comfortable 54-6 win, as they scored eight unanswered tries, over Japan at Tokyo on Saturday.
The game served as a useful test for the second-string All Blacks scrum and while it took time for the visitors to settle they were commanding in the second half, as wet conditions minimised attacking opportunities for the backs.
Japan demonstrated the worth of a full programme of international rugby in achieving their most competitive result in their brief history of internationals against the New Zealanders. They also had the satisfaction of a strong finish after a lucky breakout from their own half when the All Blacks were ruled to have dropped the ball when on attack.
In the final act of the game it was desperate tackles by loose forwards Stephen Luatua and captain Richie McCaw on wing Kenki Fukuoka that forced him out in the corner in the act of diving for what would have been a dramatic try for the home team. It was all the more impressive with Sam Cane having left when yellow-carded in the final minute for a ruck infringement.
Wing Charles Piutau made some powerful runs in the first half while flanker Sam Cane had another significant game in the loose. McCaw demonstrated his versatility at No.8 while lock Jeremy Thrush demonstrated his appreciation of a starting role with a solid game.
The second half scrum dominance was best demonstrated in a tighthead scrum in the Japan 22m area which saw halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow put a deft blindside kick through in the 67th minute for replacement first five-eighths Beauden Barrett to run onto the ball to score.
Highlanders and Otago halfback Fumiaki Tanaka showed the benefit of his exposure to top rugby while Japan flanker Michael Broadhurst was competitive in all phases, stealing an early All Blacks lineout and working hard at the breakdown. Former NRL player Craig Wing faced a tough day in the midfield for Japan as his opposite Francis Saili launched some powerful surges in his direction.
Japan started impressively, but lost their first five-eighths Harumichi Tatekawa to a shoulder injury early in the game, and came up against some solid All Blacks defence. Rain fell from about halfway through the first half resulting in some handling errors.
Piutau was perfectly placed after following a mid-field high ball kicked by fullback Barrett in the ninth minute. Japan No.8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani was unable to take the ball cleanly, it bounced and Piutau was onto it in a flash to race 22m to score.
Fullback Ayumu Goromaru provided some early reward for Japan's initial bustle when landing 13th and 21st minute penalty goals.
Holani made another mistake, just as he had at the first scrum of the game, when attempting to run the ball from the back only to lose the ball in the tackle. It was eventually tidied by New Zealand, moved to the left where Piutau made a strong run and when the play came right, hooker Dane Coles made room and popped a ball over the top for Cane to score.
Piutau made another run moments later when centre Ben Smith secured a kick ahead by first five-eighths Dan Carter and fed Piutau. When his strong run was ended, he slipped a pass to Smith who had stayed in support to score.
As the All Blacks scrum struggled for dominance at a five-metre scrum on the Japan line, McCaw took the tidy up duties on his own shoulders, picked up the ball and ploughed over for the try.
In the second half, the New Zealanders looked to take the Japanese on more up front and with McCaw leading the charge off the back of mauls, the breakthrough came in the 50th minute when Thrush drove over for his first Test try. Carter landed his fifth conversion and left the field when substituted by Tom Taylor, who moved to fullback with Barrett moving to first five-eighths.
More scrum control, a vastly improved area of the game in the damp conditions, resulted in McCaw's work setting up a try on debut for wing Frank Halai in the 57th minute when he picked up the ball after a strong attempt by halfback Kerr-Barlow.
Having introduced several new All Blacks, Halai and lock Dominic Bird started while Luke Whitelock and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen come on from the bench, there was cause for satisfaction from the game, but more than enough to keep the side focused ahead of next week's Test against France.
Japan 6 (Ayumu Goromaru 2 pen) New Zealand 54 (Charles Piutau 2, Sam Cane, Ben Smith, Richie McCaw, Jeremy Thrush, Frank Halai, Beauden Barrett tries; Dan Carter 5 con; Barrett 2 con). HT: 6-28