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Tonga players at Mt Smart Stadium.

Mate Ma'a Tonga coach Kristian Woolf was left to lament a lack of playmaking options and poor game management in his side's 34-14 defeat to the Kiwis in the opening game of the Oceania Cup on Saturday.

With first-choice halfback Ata Hingano unavailable due to injury, Tonga's lack of established playmakers was exposed, leaving Woolf to run makeshift five-eighth John Asiata alongside Tuimoala Lolohea in the halves.

Tonga managed just one try through the first 71 minutes of the game in Auckland, despite dominating possession through the first half, and were often found wanting when it came to last-tackle options.

"We had plenty of opportunities there at different times and just couldn't quite crack their line," Woolf said.

Match Highlights: NZ Kiwis v Mate Ma'a Tonga

"Some of that was our execution at times, but some of that was their really good work defensively.

"That's just the way it worked out for us there with young Ata falling over. We had to look at other options in the halves.

"That didn't work well for us tonight and they didn't have the happiest night there.

"They would both be a little bit disappointed and they have both got better footy in them.

"In plenty of periods there I thought we got a little bit caught up in trying to score tries through structure rather than wanting to run the footy and get on the footy so we could make the most of that."

Mate Ma'a Tonga's Sipi Tau

Tonga co-captain Sio Siua Taukeiaho said despite holding their own against the New Zealand pack for the most part, his side struggled to control the ruck and were made to pay for it.

The Kiwis scored three of their six tries from dummy-half runs, while New Zealand hooker Brandon Smith had a field day and made a couple of long-range breaks from the bottom of the ruck.

"Our defence let us down and they had a few quick play-the-balls and got out a few times and scored," Taukeiaho said.

"We were just getting off the ruck a bit too early, we didn't slow the ruck down and when we did get off early it's when [Smith] and that took those opportunities.

"If we slow the ruck down we are able to get our defence line set. We didn't do that in the first 20 and it's why they scored a couple of tries."

Tonga had trailed 6-4 after 25 minutes but conceded three tries in the 11 minutes either side of half-time in what Woolf labelled the turning point of the game.

Tauamalolo thanks passionate Tongan fans

"It really hurts you around half-time if you allow points, and I think if we had gone into the sheds at 10-4 or whatever it was, we go in with some real confidence," Woolf said.

"But when you get a try [against you], I think it was a last-play try, just before half-time, it does dent your confidence a little bit.

"That second half try very early in the piece does the same thing.

"At this level of footy and when you are playing a really good team like the Kiwis are, with a really good nine, six, seven and one, if you drop off on any play then they have got the ability to hurt you."

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