Death, taxes and Namibia being battered by the All Blacks. They have played them in three World Cups in a row and gone down 71-9, 58-14, and now 71-3. A handful of their players, including the captain, Johan Deysel, have played in all three losses. It must have felt like such a privilege for them to share a pitch with the All Blacks first time around, and that was exactly what the head coach, Allister Coetzee, called it again this time. But you wonder whether the appeal is starting to wear a little thin. They have now conceded 30 tries to them in 240 minutes of rugby, and scored exactly one in reply.
The match was not without jeopardy, Namibia lost their centre Le Roux Malan to a broken ankle that left his foot dangling off the end of his leg. The injury was so gruesome that the referee, Luke Pearce, took one look at it then had to turn away and catch his breath. And New Zealand lost their prop Ethan de Groot, who was shown a red card for a high tackle on Adriaan Booysen. “It was frustrating,” said the All Blacks coach, Ian Foster, twice. He felt the challenge was more shoulder on shoulder than anything else.
It was the one hitch in a slick, freewheeling All Black performance, which felt, for stretches, more like an exhibition game. They have gathered a little momentum as they roll on into their next game against Italy, but otherwise they will not have learned very much from the turkey shoot. Except, perhaps, that they have found their next scrum-half in the 22-year-old Cam Roigard, who was named man of the match on his first Test start.
Roigard pretty much settled the match all by himself in the first eight minutes, when he finished two tries. The first came at the end of a fine, flowing attack, sparked by Beauden Barrett’s dainty crossfield kick to Leicester Fainga’anuku. He slipped the ball on to David Havili, who came looping around on the outside. Fainga’anuku, who is a force of nature, picked it up again when Havili was brought down, broke a tackle, and put Roigard away through the gap. Two minutes in, the Namibia defence was already as ragged as a dog blanket.
Roigard’s second try was finished with a deft dummy and pirouette after the All Black pack steamrollered through a Namibian scrum five metres from the tryline. Namibia had actually been up in New Zealand’s 22 a few seconds earlier, when they won a penalty which they chose to kick to the corner so they could try to drive their way over from a lineout. The crowd applauded their courage, but one turnover and four passes later they were scrambling desperately back to try to defend their own tryline.
After Roigard’s second, it was simply a question of how many the All Blacks were going to run up. They suffered their first ever loss in the group stages of a World Cup when they were beaten by France last week, and they were not in a particularly forgiving mood. Damian McKenzie, making his fifth start at fly-half, picked one off with a sweet sidestep around his opposite number, Tiaan Swanepoel. Fainga’anuku took a different route for his own and simply dragged three tacklers over the tryline with him. The All Blacks had earned their bonus point in just 25 minutes of play.
The rain was lashing down now and the Namibians were, understandably, beginning to look a little sorry and shapeless. There was another try for McKenzie and one for Anton Lienert-Brown, who chased down his own hack ahead. That made it 38-3 at half-time.
It did not get any prettier in the second half, when New Zealand’s forwards started to pile in, too. De Groot battered his way over, so did Dalton Papali’i, who ran straight through Torsten van Jaarsveld’s attempted tackle. Havili enjoyed an easy finish when he was put through by Ardie Savea. New Zealand’s last, a wonderfully mazy run from the halfway line by Rieko Ioane, may have been the best of them.
Namibia kept plugging away, and kicked a couple of penalties to the corner in yet more futile attempts to try to drive their way over. At one point they had a 12-man maul going. But they still didn’t get there. They have played 24 World Cup games and are still waiting for their first victory. They have France next, for goodness sake, before they get to their own World Cup final against Uruguay.