CHICAGO — New Zealand's All Blacks made their USA rivals mostly blue on Saturday, turning what was billed as a rugby exhibition into a clinic on their way to a 74-6 win.
Playing with only a handful of regulars in the starting lineup, the defending World Cup champions went ahead three minutes in on a try up the left sideline by Nathan Harris. The Eagles countered with their best sustained ball possession of the entire match, repeatedly testing the center of the All-Blacks' defense before settling for a penalty goal from Adam Siddall to close to 5-3. That was the last moment the match was competitive.
New Zealand quickly and methodically spread the field with crisp ball movement, and then sent runners through the widening gaps in the middle or along the sidelines with little resistance. No moment better highlighted the difference in skill and speed between the sides than the scoring run by the All Blacks' Sonny Bill Williams up the right side near the half-hour mark of the opening period.
Williams had Siddall in pursuit, so he cut back toward the middle some 20 yards from the try line, where the Americans' best player, Samu Manoa, braced for the charge. But Williams, a former heavyweight boxer, showed some nifty footwork by making a sharp left turn instead and slicing between the two as Manoa, who tried tackling him low, and Siddall, who went high, collided while grasping at air.
By then, the score was 38-6 and the rout was on.
It was 43-6 by halftime and any chance of a momentum shift was quickly extinguished when the All Blacks put together another try less than a minute after intermission.
Few people in either camp predicted a close match during the weeklong buildup — the New Zealanders were 50-plus-point favorites in some betting lines — though the Eagles were able to field their best side after USA Rugby chief executive Nigel Melville was able to get Manoa and three other overseas-based U.S. players released for the match. It made no difference.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rested his core of veteran players, including captain Richie McCaw, the most capped New Zealander of all-time and the game's only three-time international player of the year. That was because after this match, the All-Blacks cross the Atlantic and get down to business: facing more traditional and much-tougher rivals England, Scotland and Wales on successive Saturdays.