New Zealand dominated the initial exchanges of the opening game of the Rugby World Cup in 2011 before Israel Dagg scored the first try of the Cup; however rusty handling errors stopped the All Blacks from further profiting on Tongan ill discipline early on. Two sublime pieces of skill from Sonny Bill Williams opened the door for a New Zealand onslaught inside the opening half-hour, the league convert creating tries to both Richard Kahui and a bright Dagg in a six minute cameo that exemplified his unique distribution skills. Kahui grabbed his second after Dagg turned provider in the 32nd, in a clinical period from the hosts before Tonga claimed their first points of the World Cup by means of a penalty in the last play of the half.
The second half started quietly after the flurry of scoring in the first. Isaiah Toeava dented his chances at making the run-on XV later in the tournament after blowing a certain try early in the second half, ignoring support while attempting to step the Tongan covering defence following a delightfully weighted grubber from Williams. Heavy defence kept the Tongans pinned in their own half before a skipped pass by Ma’a Nonu gave Toeava the chance to amend his mistake, only for the 2007 prodigy to be judged out whilst scrambling for the line. A piece of individual brilliance by Richard Kahui broke the deadlock midway through the second half; chipping over a flat Tongan defence before regathering and feeding Jerome Kaino to charge over unopposed. Sloppy goal-kicking by Daniel Carter, who kicked four from six attempts in a quiet first run, kept the score from ballooning before Tonga finally showed their hand.
A surging run by outstanding prop Alisona Tomalolo led to a period of real Tongan pressure, with a concerted effort by the Tongan forward pack pinning their more illustrious opponents on their own line for over ten minutes. Tonga rose to the occasion, declining two easy chances at three points in favour of chasing a try that finally came in the deserving shape of the dynamic Taumalolo in the 72nd minute. Any chance at an unlikely comeback was dashed immediately after, with Nonu breaking the Tongan line and exchanging a neat sequence of passing with Colin Slade before crossing under the posts for the final try.
Kiwi fans will be pleased if not ecstatic at a rusty but promising performance by the hosts in a hard-fought opening match. Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui in particular stated their claims for the first XV, while Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams shone in a dominant backline. Tonga stood their ground against the top seeds in a performance that will put fellow Pool A members on alert, claiming more possession and territory in a set of statistics that were skewed as much by Tonga’s outstanding period enjoyed late in the second half as they were by the counter-attacking style employed by a somewhat experimental New Zealand team.