“You play rugby for the challenges and this is a mighty one for us, no doubt”, said Namibia head coach Phil Davies in his soft Welsh lilt, calmly acknowledging the disparity in status between his side and world champions New Zealand ahead of their Pool C opener.
Minnows Namibia are next up for the All Blacks at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, while Georgia play Argentina in Gloucester on Friday.
While the gap between top and bottom has closed significantly since the African side conceded a record 142 points against Australia in the 2003 World Cup, New Zealand’s title rivals will have taken heart from the kind of lapses that made the Kiwi side look fallible – not an unbeatable favorite. “I thought they acquitted themselves tremendously”.
“The scoreboard would suggest that’s the case”, Hansen told the Rugby World’s official website. So Namibia will throw everything at it and won’t ever give up.
“Moments to make you think, “We’re good enough, we can do this”, said Burger who is genuinely excited about facing the haka for the first time in his distinguished career.
While Namibia’s biggest name and one of few professionals is Jacques Burger, the Saracens forward, the All Blacks have an embarrassment of riches – as was seen in the hard-fought 26-16 defeat of main group rivals Argentina when Hansen called several players off the bench to finally overwhelm the Pumas. The forwards were rolling, and centers Sonny Bill Williams and Malakai Fekitoa were creating havoc. When Namibia chose to keep ball in hand, so often the All Blacks would infringe within a couple of phases.
Secondly, teams such as Namiba will not improve unless they are exposed to the game at the highest level.
“We got through that and we have to deal”.
He converted and just before the break Milner-Skudder got his second to make it 34-6 at half-time.
Yet it wasn’t scooped up by a waiting All Black because, worryingly, this was in the warm-up.
The All Blacks managed a rapid start in the game, with Beauden Barrett kicking a penalty just three minutes after kickoff followed by No. 8 Victor Vito, who scored the team’s first try in the sixth-minute mark.
He almost scored early into the second half, driving for the line and off-loading to Skudder who spilled the pass. It was an error that prompted Coach Hansen’s post game press conference comment that he “butchered a try”…he sure did!
Further New Zealand tries came via Ben Smith, a second for Julian Savea and a neat finish from Codie Taylor to seal the deal, but the 58-14 scoreline was a damn sight better than expected.
The prize? A free holiday to New Zealand. Milner-Skudder soon got in on the act, highlighting his wonderful footwork, but Namibia refused to roll over.
Whether New Zealand will go into those Games as the first team to win the World Cup on three occasions is far from clear on Thursday’s evidence.