New Zealand Starts Quest for Rugby World Cup Title by Beating Tonga 41-10

New Zealand opened the Rugby World Cup with a 41-10 win over Tonga as the top-ranked All Blacks seek to end a 24-year title drought.

New Zealand got two tries each last night from Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui, and led 29-3 at halftime after Tonga scored just before the whistle. The hosts got second-half tries from Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu in front of 60,214 people at Auckland’s Eden Park.

Alisona Taumalolo scored 12th-ranked Tonga’s second-ever try against New Zealand late in the second half. It was the island nation’s closest loss to the All Blacks in four attempts. The most recent meeting, in 2003, ended 91-7 in favor of New Zealand.

“It’s a start,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said in a televised interview. “There were definitely some good patches. We brought the physicality. It was disappointing to let them score but we had to defend for a while.”

The All Blacks, which haven’t won rugby’s four-yearly championship since the inaugural event in 1987, face further group matches against Japan, France and Canada. Should they win the pool, the All Blacks would play their quarterfinal at Eden Park, where they last lost in 1994. The stadium will also host both semifinals and the Oct. 23 final.

Before the match, International Rugby Board Chairman Bernard Lapasset officially opened the tournament during an hour-long ceremony featuring Maori customs, fireworks and an appearance from former All Blacks winger Jonah Lomu, the leading try-scorer in World Cup history.

Losses

New Zealand entered this year’s tournament following back- to-back losses in South Africa and Australia. The hosts made 12 handling errors and 13 penalties, compared with 6 each by Tonga.

Fly-half Dan Carter kicked 9 points to extend his world record Test tally to 1,238 points. He needs 3 more points to become the first All Black to score 100 points in World Cup matches.

New Zealand dominated the first half, with 61 percent of possession. Its 29 points were a record first-half tally in a World Cup opening match.

Tonga was able to regain some footing in the second half, keeping the ball 51 percent of the period.

“In the first half, we managed to find some holes, but the disappointing thing was we didn’t come out in the second half and stick it to them,” Kahui said. “They started to tie us up in the rucks and when you’re not getting that quick ball, the holes aren’t there.”

New Zealand will take on Japan on Sept. 16, while Tonga meets Canada two days earlier. In today’s games, Scotland takes on Romania in Invercargill, Fiji plays Namibia in Rotorua, France meets Japan in Auckland and Argentina faces England in Dunedin.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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