HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND – The All Blacks got exactly what they wanted from their final match ahead of the Rugby World Cup when they demolished Tonga 92-7 on Saturday, and deliberately chose to play the last 15 minutes a man down, coach Steve Hansen said.
Inside center Ryan Crotty, who was not injured, was taken off immediately after he scored his second try in the 65th minute at Waikato Stadium despite the All Blacks having used all of their replacements.
The decision was to ensure Crotty was not overworked after two months out with a broken thumb and also to put the All Blacks under pressure and see how they responded, Hansen said.
“We ran out of reserves and Ryan only needed to play for 65 minutes,” Hansen told reporters.
“Obviously his welfare was more important and it was a good opportunity again to put ourselves under a bit of pressure when it comes to how many we have on the park.
“We had to make that choice and the score told us we could make that choice with relatively low risk.”
The tactic was reminiscent of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England when they practiced different scenarios in matches throughout the pool phase to ensure they were ready for the knockout games.
The match on Saturday — Hansen’s last in charge on home soil as he steps down after the World Cup — allowed New Zealand to fine-tune some of its attacking plans and continue to build combinations ahead of its Pool B opener against South Africa.
It also ironed out any cobwebs for side, having not played together since it beat the Wallabies three weeks ago.
“We got rugby time. We got collision time. We got set-piece time. We got time on the ball under pressure. We got time on the ball in open space. So that’s what rugby is about,” Hansen said.
“We play a massive game in two weeks and if we didn’t have any of that today we would be in trouble.
“We got exactly what we needed out of it. The score was irrelevant. It was what we did and we were happy.”
The side also got through the game without any injury concerns.
The All Blacks leave for Japan on Monday and Hansen said that after the 36-0 win over Australia and Saturday’s victory over Tonga they were tracking well for their opener against the Springboks.
“I think we’re in good shape. I think we’re like a lot of teams. We have had a good build up. We have had some good footy,” he said.
“Regardless of what happens in the first game I know by the end of the (pool phase) we will be a better side.”