Rugby World Cup: All Blacks seal top spot in Pool C

Reigning world champions New Zealand sealed top spot in Pool C with 47-9 win over Tonga. The Sea Eagles had saved their best for last, as they left the World Cup with their heads high despite the loss.

Waisake Naholo of the New Zealand All Blacks in action during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between New Zealand and Tonga.   -  Getty Images

Reigning world champions New Zealand sealed top spot in Pool C with 47-9 win over Tonga. The Sea Eagles had saved their best for last, as they left the World Cup with their heads high despite the loss.

The All Blacks, already through to the quarter-finals before Friday night's match at St. James' Park, scored seven tries to none but the game was not as one-sided as portrayed by the scoreline. Despite being underdogs, Tonga were competitive for the first 50 minutes, and had the 54,000 people packed St James' Park cheering them on when they crushed the All Blacks forwards just before half-time.

Had decisions gone their way, they could have been just one point behind with 30 minutes to play. However, referee John Lacey refrained from awarding a penalty try, although the decision must have been marginal, when the All Blacks first collapsed a maul on their own line and then folded in two successive scrums.

Tonga coach Mana Otai indicated afterwards he believed a penalty try was justified but was not prepared to criticise the officials. “We were looking for it,” he said. “They were penalised and we didn't get a reward for it. I'll leave it to your judgment.”

Had the penalty try been awarded, and with Kurt Morath kicking a penalty soon after the resumption, it would have narrowed the gap to 14-13. Instead it was 14-6 when All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder scored twice in a five minute burst to start a five-try second half avalanche and take the initiative away from the gallant islanders.

Tonga recorded only one win in the tournament, beating Namibia 35-21, but captain Nili Latu was proud of the way they performed. “I could not have asked any more from my side,” he said. “Our plan was to attack New Zealand and we believed we had the upper hand. We thought we controlled them but a quality team bounces back.”

Tonga finished fourth in Pool C, which means they miss out on automatic qualification for the next World Cup. But Otai said the way his side played showed they could handle themselves against the Tier 1 sides.

“I thought there has been a huge improvement from the way we played against Georgia to the way we played in the last two games” against Argentina and New Zealand. “We played beyond our wildest imagination, to be honest. We showed glimpses of how good we can be.”