(Reuters) - Code hopper Sonny Bill Williams made a successful return to international rugby union by scoring two tries as New Zealand hammered the United States 74-6 in their test at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday.
Williams, who was fast-tracked back into the team after two years playing rugby league, also made several tackle-bursting runs for the world champions, but suffered a blow to his hip in the second half and was replaced.
The score was a record for the All Blacks against the U.S., surpassing their 51-3 victory in 1913, in their third official test between the two teams.
“When the boys were dominating up front like they were, it was awesome to just run off the back of that,” Williams said in a televised interview. “I’ve come back a bit raw but I‘m just trying to improve each week.”
No-one had expected the 18th-ranked Eagles to beat the All Blacks, though the game had a much more symbolic significance for the sport in America.
Organizers had hoped the Eagles would be combative and show they could be competitive and for the All Blacks to showcase the speed, continuity and athleticism of top-class rugby. They got their wish.
The world champions were ruthless on attack, especially on the counter, with their instinctive ability to put support players into space by committing defenders or by well-timed runs and passes showcasing the sport at its destructive best.
Nathan Harris, Cory Jane, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charles Piutau and Julian Savea all crossed in the first half, despite spending most of the period stuck in their own half and with less than 40 percent of possession.
Aaron Cruden slotted four conversions to give the All Blacks a 43-6 lead at halftime.
Cruden scored an early second-half try before he was replaced by Daniel Carter, who was making his first All Blacks appearance in almost a year after a six-month sabbatical and lengthy recovery from a broken leg.
The All Blacks dominated the second half and while their execution level dropped they were still able to score four other tries through Joe Moody, Israel Dagg and Sam Cane before Savea added his second with Carter notching three conversions.
The Eagles looked good with the ball in hand, but their only reward was two first-half penalties to flyhalf Adam Siddall.
The All Blacks now head to London for a clash with World Cup dark horses England at Twickenham next Saturday and despite Williams, Harris (ankle) and Jane (hamstring) all suffering injuries, coach Steve Hansen said Jane was the only real concern and he was pleased with the performance.
“In a game like this you would expect one or two errors to creep into the game but they stayed on task and we scored some lovely tries,” Hansen said.
“It was a great way to start the tour and we have got a result on the board and now it’s off to England to get the job done there.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Mark Meadows