Rugby: Nonu celebrates with try in 100th test as New Zealand down Tonga

New Zealand's centre Ma'a Nonu runs with the ball.
New Zealand's centre Ma'a Nonu runs with the ball.AFP

NEWCASTLE, England (REUTERS) - Holders New Zealand rampaged past Tonga with a 47-9 victory, sealed by a try from Ma'a Nonu on his 100th test appearance, to secure top spot in Pool C of the Rugby World Cup on Friday.

Leading 14-3 at the break after two converted tries, the All Blacks ran riot in the second half to add five more as they relentlessly wore down their opponents.

But as in previous wins over Namibia and Georgia, the New Zealanders veered at times between carelessness and brilliance, especially in the first half, and were forced into retreat for long spells.

"They put us under a lot of pressure," captain Kieran Read said. "Our work up front needs to probably improve. We'll regroup, but we're glad to be where we are."

New Zealand will play the loser of Sunday's France vs Ireland game in a quarter-final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Oct 17.

Fullback Ben Smith opened the scoring for the All Blacks, finishing off a well-worked move down the right wing with a quickfire exchange of passes between the outside backs.

Kurt Morath replied with a penalty, and New Zealand spurned a great chance of a try when Waisake Naholo fumbled a straightforward pass when the All Blacks had an overlap of three men on one.

TV pictures showed coach Steve Hansen rocking back in his chair with frustration.

But New Zealand kept the initiative and prop Tony Woodcock forced his way over for a second try.

A scrappy first half was punctuated by a long series of scrums, breaking up not only the flow of the game but also the surface of the pitch at Newcastle United's St James' Park, causing anxious groundsmen to scurry on for improvised repairs.

The decisive passage of play came either side of the interval, when Read was sin-binned for bringing down the maul and Tonga inched ever closer to the All Black line.

After several scrum collapses, they appeared to get the ball across in the final play of the first half but the TMO ruled they had failed to ground it.

With the All Blacks restored to 15 men soon after the restart, the tide turned.

Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder stretched their lead with two tries, running through to dive and touch down his second after a deft grubber kick from Beauden Barrett.

Sonny Bill Williams grabbed try number five and things went from bad to worse for Tonga when Paula Ngauamo was yellow-carded for upending Dan Carter in the tackle. Soon afterwards flanker Sam Cane piled through for number six.

Nonu fittingly added the seventh, set up by Milner-Skudder to score in the left corner after an attacking move that spanned the width of the field.

Having been pipped for third place in the pool by Georgia, Tonga miss out on an automatic place in the 2019 World Cup in Japan and will have to go through the process of qualification.