New Zealand coach David Kidwell has said his side’s historic Rugby League World Cup loss to Tonga is a “blessing in disguise” and that their second-half ill- discipline is rectifiable for this weekends quarter-final against Fiji Bati.
The Kiwis fell 28-22 to Mate Ma’a in Hamilton on Saturday, giving up top spot in Pool B and becoming the first tier-one nation in history to lose to a tier-two opponent.
Kidwell bemoaned his side’s sloppiness post-match, having squandered a 16-2 lead at the break to concede five tries.
Their first-half completion rate of 83 per cent fell to 68 per cent.
But he believed that, barring a 15-minute period of mass panic in which Tonga bagged four tries, his Kiwis outfit remained on the right track.
They’d stick to their tried-and-true heading into next week’s knockout encounter against the Bati, with a semi-final against Cup favourites Australia likely to follow.
“I thought we were very good in the first half, embraced what Tonga threw at us and capitalised on our opportunities,” Kidwell said.
“In the second, a bit of ill-discipline coming out of the back field with penalties, and they capitalised.
“What I was looking for was for us to make sure we stayed calm and got back to our focuses; that’s a make-better for us coming into Fiji.
“We just need to tighten up on the little things, make them better.”
Kidwell’s troops will head into their Wellington test against a Fiji side full of confidence, having won all three of their games to finish top of Pool D.
They thumped Italy 38-10 on Friday night.
Kidwell labelled Fiji’s back-five as among the best at the World Cup, with the likes of Kevin Naiqama and Suliasi Vunivalu scoring at will.
Jarryd Hayne was also playing well at five-eighth.
“They can score from anywhere and have a very strong back-five, and they’re in form, we have to make sure we’re on our defensive game,” Kidwell said.
“Obviously Jarryd Hayne, he loves these big games and big moments.”
On the injury front, Kidwell said most of his side had escaped Saturday’s match with bumps and bruises, with a knee issue for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak the only real concern.
He’ll be monitored over the course of the week.
Centre Dean Whare will make a quick dash across the Tasman for a family funeral, and return to the Kiwis camp in Wellington on Tuesday.