New Zealand 58 Namibia 14
Rarely has a 44-point defeat in rugby felt so much like a victory. But the smiles from Namibia’s players after this valiant 58-14 defeat against the reigning world champions told the story. Repeatedly you hear them called minnows. In reality they are tadpoles, the worst-ranked team at this World Cup, with just 1,080 registered players. Yet the bravery of their team of mostly amateurs – including engineers, diamond traders, dentists and bike shop workers – was never punctured despite repeatedly onslaughts from their more illustrious players.
Many of Namibia’s players have spent months getting up at 4.30am to train at 5am to ready themselves for this tournament. All those early morning alarm calls will feel worth it now. Most of them are scattered across the globe, playing in French second division rugby, lower grade South African clubs and local Namibian sides.
But they had plenty of beef in their side, and they also had Burger: Jacques Burger – the Saracens flanker, regarded as one of their best tacklers in the game. But it was the collective efforts of everyone in the Namibian team which ensure this was never the mismatch that everyone expected.
Twenty minutes before the match, the stadium scoreboards broadcast a Tackling 101 guide for new supporters. As it played, the Namibians practised vigorously smashing into foam tackle bags. But that dry run could hardly prepare them for the punishment that lay ahead. From the kick off the New Zealand pack made a bullying statement of intent, driving a maul 30 metres and bouncing most of the Namibians that dared get in their way into the turf.
It was inevitable that such pressure would quickly lead to points. And it was no surprise when New Zealand's first serious foray into Namibia's half resulted in a penalty in front of the box which Beauden Barrett elected to kick, to the disproval of some in the crowd. But after six minutes the smattering of boos were replaced by an explosion of cheers after Victor Vito went over for the opening try following a driving run down the wing by Julian Savea and a smart offload by Sonny Bill Williams.
With Richie McCaw and Kieran Read on the bench and Dan Carter given the night off, this was resolutely New Zealand's second string. Only two starters – Nehe Milner-Skudder and Sam Whitelock – remained from the team that began Sunday's victory over Argentina. Even so the All Blacks had more than twice as much experience on their bench (660 caps) as Namibia had in their starting lineup (299 caps).
And even in this sometimes unpredictable World Cup there was never going to be a fairytale here. Not with Namibia having lost all their previous 15 World Cup matches and come off worse against Madasgascar, Portugal and Spain during the past four years. Just six minutes in, the only uncertainty was the size of the beating and the scale of the resistance.
In 2003 Namibia had lost 142-0 to Australia, the biggest thumping in World Cup history. Four years later, they pushed Ireland close before succumbing 32-17 – a result that remains their narrowest World Cup defeat. For this game the bookies had made them 75-point underdogs. But even that was soon looking generous as Milner-Skudder touched down to put All Blacks 15-0 up inside ten minutes.
A competently struck penalty from fly-half Theuns Kotzé got the Namibians on the scoreboard, but when All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa barged under the posts a few minutes later, they were 22-3 behind.
Before the game Namibia’s captain Jacques Burger had talked about his team fighting for “small victories”, by even winning small parts of the game. And from the 20th to the 30th minute that is exactly what they did, keeping the All Blacks out and scoring another penalty through Kotzé’s boot.
At this point the All Blacks were looking a little disjointed, but ironically it was Burger – one of the game’s great tacklers – who missed his chance for a hit, allowing Barrett to storm through to make it 29-6.
Burger attempted to make up for it with an enormous hit on the New Zealand second row Luke Romano, who stands at 6ft 6in and 18 and a half stone, and his team-mates responded by scrapping over every loose ball and throwing themselves into every tackle. But just before half-time Milner-Skudder wriggled clear again to score his second try, and New Zealand's fifth, to put them 34-6 up at the interval.
The Namibians opened the second-half scoring with another penalty from Kotzé, but when Julian Savea sped over for his first international try this year – and his 31st in 37 appearances for the All Blacks – you expected it might open the floodgates.
But the Namibians were stubbornness personified. Not only did they press, they also attacked whenever they could. And having won a penalty in a kickable position they adventurously opted to boot it to the corner rather than go for three points, and they were rewarded for their bravery when Johan Deysel shrugged off Sam Whitelock and Fekitoa to go over to make it 41-14 after 50 minutes.
The All Blacks continued to drive – and continued to be resisted. The wave of substitutions probably didn’t help their momentum, but mostly it was the bravery of Namibia rearguard.
But you feared the worst when propJaco Engels was sent to the sin bin for deliberately going offside. And shortly afterwards the weight of numbers told when substitute Ben Smith went over in the corner.
But again the Namibians resisted, only conceding that one try when reduced to 14 men. And while Savea scored towards the end to bring up the half century of All Black points, their opponent’s fitness and determination ensured the expected rout never materialised.
New Zealand: Slade (Smith, 52); Milner-Skudder, Fekitoa, Williams (Nonu, 61), Savea; Barrett, Perenara (Kerr-Barlow, 48); Franks, Taylor, Faumuina (Crockett, 63), Romano, Whitelock (Read, 52), Messam, Cane (capt), Vito.
Tries: Vito, Milner-Skudder 2, Fekitoa, Barrett, Savea 2, Smith Cons: Barrett 3, Slade Pens: Barrett
Namibia: Tromp; Philander (Viviers, 58), Greyling, Deysel, Marais (Botha, 45); Kotzé, Jantjies (Buitendag, 72); Engels, Van Jaarsveld (Van der Westhuizen, 73), Coetzee (Larson, 48), Uanivi, Van Lill (Kitschoff, 62), Burger, Du Plessis, Damens (Du Plessis, 52).
Sin bin: Engels, 56 Tries: Deysel Pens: Kotzé 3