New Zealand beats Georgia 43-10, advances at Rugby World Cup

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) New Zealand ran in seven tries, dispatched Georgia 43-10 for a third straight pool win, and became the first team to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup.

This sloppy, inaccurate display on Friday – laced with uncharacteristic errors – was far from a vintage All Blacks performance, however, and the defending champions are still to discover their fluency two weeks into the tournament.

An almost full-strength New Zealand was expected to put away a weakened Georgia lineup with ease and they scored four tries inside 22 minutes to secure the bonus point, the first try coming from fit-again winger Waisake Naholo after just 72 seconds.

But from then on, it was mistake after mistake by the All Blacks, with star flyhalf Dan Carter particularly culpable. There were some jeers inside Millennium Stadium when Ben Smith kicked to touch to end the game, and the win was barely celebrated on the field.

”There are a lot of things we could have done better,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. ”But you don’t get any gold medals for winning these games. You just get to qualify. Being in the quarterfinals is quite exciting.”

Made to work hard for a 26-16 win over Argentina and then frustrated by Namibia in a 58-14 victory last week, the All Blacks wanted to find some fluency in their first ever test against Georgia. It didn’t happen.

”Maybe we were trying too hard,” said New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who hobbled off in the 60th minute with knocks on his shin and quad. He said the injuries weren’t serious.

The All Blacks turned the ball over 14 times, mostly through sloppy handling. Carter only kicked four of his conversions, was targeted with some thunderous tackles, and shook his head near the end after missing touch from a penalty. Georgia had the better of the scrum. And the fifth-minute try New Zealand conceded was uncharacteristic, with some players virtually stopping as they thought there had been a knock-on.

Georgia fullback Beka Tsiklauri kicked forward from just inside the All Blacks half, collected the ball, and was punching his right fist into the air 10 meters before he’d reached the line.

That try received the biggest cheer of the night.

Still, there were plenty of holes in Georgia’s defense that New Zealand exposed.

Naholo made the first incursion with his first touch of the ball, running 60 meters past three flailing Georgia backs and scoring between the posts. Two months ago, his World Cup ambitions looked over after breaking his right leg on test debut against Argentina in the Rugby Championship, but here he was being mobbed by teammates after his first test try.

Opposite winger Julian Savea scored two tries in the left corner in a nine-minute span, and ended up with a hat trick, and hooker Dane Coles ran through for the fourth try – and the bonus point. Yet New Zealand was held scoreless for the rest of the half.

And only three more tries came in the second half, through Kieran Read, Savea and replacement Malakai Fekitoa.

”I asked the boys before the game to play with pride, for the jersey and the country and show what Georgian rugby is all about,” Georgia’s New-Zealand-born coach Milton Haig said. ”For large parts, that’s what we did.”

The All Blacks will play Tonga in their last pool match on Oct. 9 and will likely be back in Cardiff – where they lost in the 2007 quarterfinals – for a quarterfinal on Oct. 17.