'These guys are rock stars': All Blacks in no way surprised by Fiji's first-test effort

All Blacks first-five Richie Mo’unga says the only ones surprised by Fiji’s competitiveness last weekend are the New Zealand public unfamiliar with the rugby scene up north.

The 57-23 win in Dunedin flattered the hosts in a match where they were dominated at the breakdown by the athletic, powerful frames of the hard-working Fijian forwards, before being able to take advantage of a tiring visiting side – fresh out of quarantine – late on.

Fiji, who had played just a single test since the 2019 World Cup, were a welcome step up from their Pacific neighbours, Tonga, who New Zealand had belted 102-0 a week prior.

But, any suggestions the world No 11 had somewhat caught the All Blacks off guard in the first of their two-game series – which continues in Hamilton on Saturday – was swiftly rebuffed by playmaker Mo’unga, who, in speaking to media on Monday, gave his views after taking in the game from the Forsyth Barr Stadium grandstands after being rotated out of action.

“What surprised me? To be honest, nothing surprised me at all. We knew what we were going to get,” Mo'unga said.

“Those that didn’t know what to expect was some of the New Zealand public, that don’t watch European rugby. Because these guys are rock stars over there.

“I was well aware of that, as was the team, around their threats, and ball carriers... they came with the intensity that we expected.”

Halfback Brad Weber was another who witnessed the action not quite first-hand, having also had the week off, but, like Mo’unga, was not surprised one bit by the Flying Fijians’ fierceness.

“All the rumours were true,” he quipped.

“Geez, they were some big boys, it was a physical old game, they really got stuck into the fellas.

“They weren’t afraid, and they were willing to throw everything at us. You can’t fault the athleticism from them as well. You kind of hear about it, and it’s not until you see it in the flesh that you realise how athletic those guys are.”

Weber, who scored a hat-trick in the mauling of Tonga before being winded by a boot to the ribs which had coach Ian Foster decide to replace him, and Mo’unga, both seem destined to return for game two in Hamilton in a two-test series which looks like being a fine foundation before the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.

“With all due respect to Tonga, there’s only so much you can get out of games like that,” Weber said. “This was a true test – that’s the sort of intensity and physicality that we expect, moving forward. And it’s exactly what we wanted.”

Mo’unga echoed those sentiments:

“It can only be a good thing having those challenges, especially with an All Blacks team that’s quite young and doesn’t have a lot of experience, it just opens doors for those guys to learn as much as possible,” he said.