New Zealand continued their formidable unbeaten run at the pool stage of the Rugby World Cup with a hard-fought victory over an understrength Georgia at the Millennium Stadium. Tries from Waisake Naholo, hat-trick hero Julian Savea and Dane Coles saw the defending champions secure a bonus point inside just 22 minutes, but a combination of several uncharacteristic handling errors and ferocious Lelos defending made it a more difficult evening than many had initially expected.
Donning the All Black jersey for the second time in his career and the first since cracking a fibula against Argentina just 10 weeks ago, talented Highlanders wing Naholo wasted little time in providing a reminder of his ability as he powered through the Georgian line to touch down after being teed up by Dan Carter. Anyone who believed these opponents, who rested several key players with one eye on securing automatic qualification for Japan 2019 in their final pool fixture against minnows Namibia on 7 October, would simply roll over and accept their fate were proved badly wrong as Milton Haig's side replied immediately through full-back Beka Tsiklauri.
Savea notched a brace during New Zealand's last outing against the Namibians at Wembley and he did so again in Cardiff with two scores in the left corner, the second coming after a powerful scrum that created a valuable overlap. A notably rusty Carter missed both conversions and subsequently botched a third after the bonus point was wrapped up when inventive offloads from Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith led to Kieran Read looping an excellent pass out to Richie McCaw. The captain then drew in his defender perfectly before popping the ball off for hooker Coles to score.
Sheer sloppiness and human error kept the score close and the Kiwis often struggled to cope with Georgia's admirable line speed in defence. Number eight Read broke that resistance when he burrowed over the line 12 minutes after the break and the impressive Savea then notched his treble. With the clock ticking down until full-time and the decision to award Mamuka Gorgodze the man of the match award inviting a humble reaction from the inspirational Toulon back-rower, Malakai Fekitoa raced clear to register a seventh and final try.
Despite the convincing 43-10 scoreline, however, the All Blacks were nowhere near their vintage best and there were slight concerns late on as McCaw appeared to be limping rather gingerly. Next on the agenda is a meeting with Tonga in Leicester next week before a likely quarter-final clash against either Ireland or France on 17 October.