Williams back, helps All Blacks to 74-6 win v US
CHICAGO (AP) — Sonny Bill Williams scored two of New Zealand’s 12 tries in a stirring return to international rugby on Saturday, helping the All Blacks thrash the United States 74-6 in front of a capacity crowd at Soldier Field.
In his first test for New Zealand in two years — after his temporary return to rugby league — Williams scored two of the seven first-half tries that gave the All Blacks a 43-6 lead by the break.
Hooker Nathan Harris, lock Patrick Tuipulotu and prop Joe Moody all scored their first test tries and Cory Jane, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea with a double, Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg and Sam Cane also touched down in New Zealand’s largest-ever win over the United States.
“In a game like this you’d expect one or two errors to creep into the game but overall I thought we stayed on task,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said.
The U.S. Eagles looked good at times with ball in hand but had no answer to the power of the All Blacks’ attack, particularly their ability to offload in tackles. The home team’s only points came from two first-half penalties kicked by its New Zealand-born flyhalf Adam Siddall.
New Zealand’s win appeared to come at a heavy injury cost which may affect their plans for upcoming tests against England, Scotland and Wales.
Harris, who made his first test start Saturday, limped from the field with an ankle injury only seven minutes after scoring his try. Jane scored New Zealand’s second try in the 15th minute but was forced off in the 34th with a hamstring strain.
Williams touched down in the 22nd and 30th minutes but he left the field in the 58th with a hip injury.
The United States also had injury setbacks, losing backrower Danny Barrett and winger Brett Thompson during the first half.
New Zealand hoped to put on a show for the 61,500 fans who crammed Soldier Field, almost tripling the previous record crowd for an international rugby match in the United States. The match was also shown live nationwide by broadcaster NBC, giving rugby its biggest chance in years to win a new audience in the United States.
Though the team named by the All Blacks was largely experimental, it still clicked easily into an attack groove and scored tries — some brilliantly-constructed — at regular intervals. Dagg and Jane, particularly, sparked counterattacks from the backfield and the offloading ability of Williams and his midfield partner Ryan Crotty shattered the U.S. defense.
“It was unreal ... awesome atmosphere and awesome to be part of such an historic event in rugby,” Williams said.
New Zealand always had runners in support of any player who broke a tackle and showed their instinctive ability to select the best passing option when moves seemed likely to break down.
Williams showed his class in the first minute of the match with a clean break and his double emphasized his outstanding attacking ability, which now gives the All Blacks selectors a huge variety of midfield options. Though Crotty didn’t score, he was just as important in directing the New Zealand attack; making breaks then offloading after committing defenders.
Backrower and captain Keiran Read, who also left the field during the second half, along with Moody, lock Jeremy Thrush and replacement hooker Keven Mealamu had strong games in defense and around the field.
“I think it was a pretty high quality game,” Read said. “There weren’t too many stoppages and not too many dropped balls so we’re pretty happy with our point of view.
New Zealand’s winning margin might have been larger but Cruden, who started at flyhalf, succeeded with only four of nine shots at goal. His replacement, Dan Carter, took the field in the 50th minute for his first test match in a year and added to his world-record points tally in tests by kicking three conversions from difficult angles.
Carter also played a part in creating the All Blacks’ final try, the second scored by Savea.
Lock Samu Manu was an outstanding defender and strong ball-carrier for the Eagles.
“It was a tough day at the office but it was a great day, to play at Soldier Field with a packed house, great fans and opposition which is all class,” Eagles captain Todd Clever said. “Once you make a mistake or give them space you pay for it. But I thought the guys learned a lot and we played the whole 80 minutes so I’m proud of our boys too.”