All Blacks captain Richie McCaw scored a try and flyhalf Dan Carter kicked 10 points as both players returned from injury to lead New Zealand to a comfortable 54-6 win over Japan on Saturday.
Seven different All Blacks ran in eight tries as the world champions made light work of their first test match in Tokyo against the Brave Blossoms, who were restricted to just six points from the boot of fullback Ayumu Goromaru at Chichibunomiya Stadium.
Japan was denied the consolation of a last-minute try when a video replay ruled that Kenki Fukuoka was out of play when he touched the ball down after the final buzzer, but Braves Blossoms caretaker manager Scott Wisemantel acknowledged that the damage had been done long before then.
“I thought that the first 20 minutes was very good ,” said Wisemantel, who was standing in for coach Eddie Jones, who suffered a stroke last month.
“The next step is that we need to be able to maintain it against those types of teams for 50 minutes, to keep the pressure on. Because that’s when we gave away a few cheap tries, and that’s where we let the game slip.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen handed four players their debuts in an experimental lineup featuring 14 changes from the team that beat Australia two weeks ago, and the manager was happy with the way his side acquitted itself before it heads to Europe to take on France, England and Ireland.
“I think it was a very good match for us in a number of ways,” said Hansen. “It got the new people on track and let them understand what it means to be an All Black, and we got Rich (McCaw) and Dan (Carter) back on track and gave them some time.
“I thought that Japan should be credited for participating in the game in a big way. They never gave up, they were looking to score points whenever they could.”
Japan forced New Zealand into some last-ditch defending in the final few minutes, but Fukuoka was unable to evade McCaw’s tackle on the final play as Japan’s run of 55 consecutive try-scoring games came to an end.
“I was pretty desperate to stop Japan scoring,” said McCaw, who was winning his 121st cap. “Perhaps they deserved to score a try at the end, but a big part of our attitude is summed up with defense. I didn’t want to be the one that missed.”
New Zealand opened the scoring in the 10th minute when winger Charles Piutau pounced on a fumble from Japan No. 8 Ryukoliniasi Holani, snaffling the ball to break clear of the crowd and run home between the posts.
Goromaru reduced the deficit with a drop goal after Carter had slotted the conversion, before the Japanese fullback cut the gap to one point with a penalty midway through the first half. But the All Blacks soon took control with two tries in the space of as many minutes.
First Sam Cane took a pass from hooker Dane Coles to canter over the line down the right, before Piutau broke two tackles down the left to feed Ben Smith for the score.
McCaw then got in on the action, breaking out from a ruck to charge over the line for New Zealand’s fourth try of the afternoon.
Japan again held the visitors scoreless for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, but Jeremy Thrush drove over the line to extend New Zealand’s lead in the 50th minute before Carter made way for Tom Taylor after kicking his fifth conversion in five attempts.
Winger Frank Halai then marked his All Blacks debut with a try in the 57th minute, before fullback Beauden Barrett and Piutau both crossed the line to put New Zealand further out of sight.
“We had chances to attack, even though we didn’t manage to score a try,” said Japan captain Toshiaki Hirose. “We played the way we wanted to, and we have to keep believing in ourselves and fix the little mistakes.”