Rugby World Cup 2015: All Blacks battle to dominate brave Namibia

Story highlights

  • No. 1 side New Zealand beats Namibia 58-14
  • All Blacks struggle against 20th-ranked Africans
  • Namibia has never won a World Cup match

London (CNN)It was billed as one of the greatest mismatches in rugby history -- New Zealand's world champion All Blacks up against a largely semi-pro team of farmers, dentists and traders.

But reputations have counted for little at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and Namibia -- the lowest-ranked team of the tournament -- suffered no disgrace in losing 58-14 at London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Thursday.
New Zealand, seeking to become the first nation to retain the title, now has two wins from two in Pool C but -- as in Sunday's game against Argentina -- there was a worrying lack of cohesion displayed by Steve Hansen's men.
    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.
    "When everyone was talking about record scores here, I said they were foolish," said Hansen, who was one of Graham Henry's assistants for the long-awaited success on home soil four years ago.
    "World rugby has put in a lot of money and effort to improve standards and the so-called minnows have played well so far."
    Namibia not only had the audacity to put points on the board, with three first-half penalties by Theuns Kotze, but was rewarded early in the second spell for spurning another goal attempt and attacking with a move that led to inside center Johan Deysel crossing for a try in the 51st minute.
    His father, former Namibia international Johan Snr., was watching in the stands.
    "He'll be very proud. He might have scored some tries but he never played against the All Blacks," said Deysel, who turns 24 on Saturday.
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    That made the score 41-14, with New Zealand having already earned a bonus point thanks to five first-half tries, and the crowd of 51,820 erupted in delight.
    It raised the intensity following a slow start to the match, with fans launching a Mexican Wave inside the first 20 minutes that lasted multiple circuits of a stadium that three years ago hosted the world's greatest track and field athletes.
    After the World Cup it will temporarily shut again while it is redeveloped into both the home of soccer team West Ham and a national athletics center.
    Rugby didn't feature at those 2012 Olympics but will return after a 92-year wait at Rio 2016 in the abbreviated Sevens format.
    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.
    Hansen, who complained of his players' rustiness after the 26-16 win over Argentina, made 11 changes to his starting lineup for the Namibia game.
    Sam Cane became the 67th man to captain the All Blacks, and at 23 the fifth youngest as he superseded Richie McCaw -- who dropped to the bench for his record-extending 144th international.
    "When Namibia got tired, the game got messy but that's what you would expect when you've just got eight players who are amateurs in their 23 and they're up against one of the most professional teams in rugby," Hansen said.
    "But early in the game, they committed themselves totally to the breakdown, the tackle and the lineout, and they should be really proud of themselves.
    "They gave everything they could give and that's all you can ask of a man."
    Beauden Barrett, starting at fly-half in place of rugby's record international points scorer Dan Carter, put New Zealand ahead with a fifth-minute penalty, then he converted tries by No. 8 Victor Vito and young winger Nehe Milner-Skudder.
    At 15-0 after 10 minutes, the floodgates seemed to have opened, but only three more tries followed in the next half hour as Sonny Bill Williams set up Malakai Fekitoa, Barrett broke through the Namibia defensive line, and Milner-Skudder was rewarded for an athletic dive into the corner by the video referee.
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    After the break, Kotze reduced the deficit to 34-9 before the television match official was again called into action, ruling that All Blacks winger Julian Savea had touched down.
    Deysel replied with his own try soon after, and a measure of his side's tenacity was illustrated when New Zealand could only cross once in the 10 minutes Namibia was down to 14 men after prop Jaco Engels was sin-binned. Replacement back Ben Smith went over in the right corner just after the hour mark.
    Even with inspirational forward McCaw on the field for the final quarter, and with Namibia's battle-scarred captain Jacques Burger going off, the All Blacks could only add two more tries as Savea and hooker Codie Taylor crossed in the last five minutes.
    It ended a run of four successive victories for Namibia, having beaten Russia twice, Kenya and Zimbabwe before the tournament.
    Coached by former Wales international Phil Davies since late June, the "Welwitschias" (named after a desert plant) will next play Tonga on Tuesday at Exeter's 12,500-capacity Sandy Park, seeking to win for the first time after 16 World Cup defeats.
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    "It's like the fear of a deep ocean -- you don't know what's under there until you go in," said Burger, one of the team's full professionals, with English club Saracens, and playing at his third World Cup.
    "Our guys now know you don't need a miracle to perform against these guys."
    The All Blacks will have three extra days before taking on Georgia at the home of Welsh rugby, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.
    This Friday, Georgia, which beat Tonga 17-10 in its opening game, plays Argentina at Gloucester.
    "When you look at the Japan victory (over South Africa) they had been building that performance over a couple of years," Davies said.
    "I know the preparation Georgia have put in and we have put a lot of preparation in as well. The effort the players put in has been phenomenal."