Wing Zac Guildford scored four tries as the All Blacks responded to their selection woes in style by wrapping up their Pool A campaign with a resounding 79-15 win over Canada at Wellington Regional Stadium on Sunday.
Hours after influential fly half Dan Carter was ruled out of Rugby World Cup 2011 with a groin injury, New Zealand ran in 12 tries to give next Sunday’s quarter-final opponents Argentina plenty to think about.
Carter’s replacement Colin Slade had an erratic afternoon with the boot and limped off after an hour but Piri Weepu came off the bench and immediately slotted a conversion from the left touchline to suggest coach Graham Henry still has options.
Although the Canucks defended bravely and grabbed two tries of their own, the damage was done in a first half that featured a Guildford hat-trick and ended with the All Blacks 37-8 ahead.
Slade’s early nerves allowed Canada to take the lead within a minute when his clearance kick was charged down and Ander Monro slotted a penalty that resulted from the fallout.
Slade made amends five minutes later by darting through the Canada defence before throwing a long, well-weighted pass to left wing Guildford, who just squeezed over in the corner.
Flanker Victor Vito and right wing Israel Dagg also crossed the line and Slade kicked a penalty before Guildford got his second by showing great speed to capitalise on a fumble by Canada wing Conor Trainor.
His pace was again in evidence four minutes later when he sprinted clear to put Mils Muliaina in for a try in his 99th Test, and he was on the end of a move sparked by a clever kick-pass by Sonny Bill Williams to seal his hat-trick.
Trainor narrowed the gap for Canada by scoring a try in the left corner on the stroke of half-time.
Straight after the break Trainor repeated the dose by winning a race to the line from a kick ahead in broken play and Monro converted to make it 37-15.
But the All Blacks soon reasserted their authority when Conrad Smith took a pass from Williams and offloaded for scrum half Jimmy Cowan to score near the posts.
When Muliaina and Kieran Read were replaced after 50 minutes flanker Jerome Kaino moved round to number 8 and immediately took advantage of slack tackling to score the All Blacks’ eighth try, which Slade converted to make it 51-15.
Williams popped up on the left wing to beat the Canada cover for the ninth and Kaino got his second when the New Zealand scrum drove over beneath the posts. Weepu converted both and put in a kick ahead to produce Guildford’s fourth, for which he also added the two extra points to make it 72-15.
Weepu’s influence was also in evidence at the close when his inside pass put Vito in under the posts. He made no mistake with the conversion.