Under the radar, or undetectable? Perhaps the latter is more appropriate given New Zealand’s stealth-bomber colours and the haka’s flying V formation. The main thing is that the All Blacks have qualified for the quarter-finals and no one will fancy playing them. The crushing pre-tournament defeat by the Springboks and an opening-night loss against France have been consigned to history, and Ian Foster’s side will meet Ireland, South Africa or Scotland in the last eight.
Eleven tries were scored against a Uruguay team who fought skilfully and kept their opponents out for the first quarter. Once New Zealand’s passes began to stick, though, a rout was the inevitable result. The wing Leicester Fainga’anuku scored a second-half hat-trick but Esteban Meneses’s side exit the tournament with their reputations enhanced.
“We’ve responded well from the first game [against France],” said Foster. “We took lots of lessons out of that … I believe we’ve grown our game to a point that we’ll go into this quarter-final really well prepared. Whatever happens – whoever we play - it’s going to be a massive game, but that’s what quarter-finals should be like. We’re ready.”
The Uruguay head coach, Meneses, said he will take “a week or two with my family” before deciding his future after eight years in the job. “We gave everything,” he said. “It was a great end to our World Cup – not just the play, the passion. What I will take away from this tournament is the sense of sacrifice shown by the team. The way they give their lives for the shirt, for their game, is admirable.”
It was impossible to disagree, especially after that first quarter when the All Blacks’ jet engines initially failed to fire. Cam Roigard’s early knock-on cost them a try but it was not just their own inaccuracy; Uruguay tore into their task with a complete absence of fear, tackling hard and using the ball intelligently.
Manuel Ardao, the blindside flanker, was inches away from scoring a crowd-pleasing opener for Los Teros but was narrowly forced into touch. The All Blacks full-back Damian McKenzie then skipped over and touched down but again his side were denied when the TMO spotted a neck-grab by Richie Mo’unga. For Uruguay’s fans, this spirited effort against the world’s greatest team was all wonderful fun with respect to the 80-minute drubbing many had expected.
McKenzie finally succeeded in bashing the door down on 20 minutes, and a knock-on by Felipe Etcheverry immediately gave New Zealand a scrum, and field position for Mo’unga to breeze through. Things were happening whenever McKenzie got involved and an outrageous moment of skill brought New Zealand’s third try, as he gathered a bouncing ball one-handed and flicked it inside to Will Jordan. The wing arrowed under the posts, and Mo’unga converted for 21-0. Jordan was nearly in again seconds later after his own sublime one-handed pick-up, before Roigard’s try seconds before half-time secured the bonus point – and a place in the quarter-finals.
Fletcher Newell, who had replaced the injured Tyrel Lomax in the front row early on, barged across the try-line soon after half-time and Fainga’anuku soon scored the first of his three. Jordan and Tamaiti Williams also crossed and there was a stirring ovation for Sam Whitelock, taken off having won his 150th cap for New Zealand and setting a record of 23 World Cup appearances, surpassing Jason Leonard and Richie McCaw. Foster and his players will know in a couple of days who awaits them in the quarter-finals.
“Uruguay were 100% committed for 80 minutes,” Foster said. “It was a little bit harder than perhaps what people think. I’m pleased, but we know there’s going to be a big step up coming next week. We need to go out there, express ourselves, and give it everything.” Under the radar? Not any more.