Player Ratings: Untidy performance
OPINION: The All Blacks survived a big scare from Fiji as they scored 26 unanswered points in the final quarter of an hour to secure a 57-23 win.
Alex McLeod rates the All Blacks in Dunedin.
1. George Bower – 7
Muscled up well in the scrum of the match. Continued that solidity throughout the remainder of the first half. Even won his side a penalty as he outdid Mesake Doge in the 25th minute. Same again in the 39th minute. Made a strong case to stay in the starting line-up. Off in the 50th minute.
2. Codie Taylor – 6
Pinged in the 12th minute for a breakdown-related infringement right in front of his own goal posts, allowing Fiji to slot their second penalty of the evening. Similar offence in the 49th minute, which gave Fiji some good field position. Nice distribution skills on show in the lead-up to George Bridge’s try. Faultless at the line-out, but his position in the starting side must be under threat after Dane Coles’ cameo. Off in the 50th minute.
3. Nepo Laulala – 6
Like Bower, showed lots of grunt at scrum time. Lots of nice touches with ball in hand, but was pinged for failing to release the ball, allowing Fiji to kick themselves into some handy field position. Off in the 50th minute.
4. Patrick Tuipulotu – 5
Relatively trusty aerial option at the line-out and off the kick-off. Guilty of coughing up a few turnovers, though. Off in the 59th minute.
5. Brodie Retallick – 6
Tough start back in international footy as he was pinged for diving into the ruck off his feet in the opening minute of the test. Slowly worked his way into the match. Superb rip of the ball to steal possession and stunt a promising Fijian attack. Perhaps his drop in weight during his time in Japan was counter-productive for Test rugby as he wasn’t the physical brute we’re used to seeing from him. Still produced 13 tackles.
6. Shannon Frizell – 6
Hardly saw the ball on attack in the first half, but put in a good shift defensively. The one time he did have the ball came at the end of the half when he was pinged for not releasing at the breakdown. Ended the Test with a match-high 15 tackles without missing one.
7. Ethan Blackadder – 6
Massive work rate. Was always near the centre of the action. Great work at the breakdown to earn his side a penalty near the 20-minute mark. Faultless on defensive and finished just one tackle shy of equalling Frizell’s total.
8. Hoskins Sotutu – 6.5
Guilty of throwing a looping ball past about four or five supporting players in wide open space that effectively cost his side a try in the opening minutes. Was lively throughout general play, though. Good awareness to snatch the ball on the Fijian side of the ruck near the half hour mark. Off in the 67th minute.
9. Aaron Smith (captain) – 6
Not a whole lot to write home about from the first half. Passed, passed and passed but wasn’t able to assert much influence throughout the opening stanza. Boosted the stat sheet a little bit in the second half. Nevertheless, a proud moment captaining his country for the first time. Off in the 68th minute.
10. Beauden Barrett – 6
Directed traffic well while also utilising his running threat when needed from the backfield. Good core skills on show in the lead-up to his younger brother’s try. Off in the 24th minute for a head injury assessment. Back on in the 34th minute and made an immediate impact through his attacking kicking and solid defence. Poor handling stifled a good-looking All Blacks attack, but was fortunate to be given a penalty in the same sequence of play after a Fijian defender took him out off the ball. Didn’t quite assert his authority over the No.10 jersey to establish himself as the must-pick option, so all eyes will be on the first-five spot during next Thursday’s team selection.
11. George Bridge – 5
Caught lacking badly defensively as his misread allowed Eroni Sau to break the line and put the All Blacks under serious pressure near the half hour mark. Finished off a sweeping backline move to run in an easy try from about five metres out early in the second half. Very minimal output, even if he managed to score a try. Clearly some way off his best after his lengthy injury lay-off. Off in the 66th minute.
12. David Havili – 7
Part of the slick backline move that put Jordie Barrett in for his first try. Noticeably popped up at first receiver from time to time. Good heads up play to take the Fijian defensive line and step his way over the tryline in the 18th minute rather than spread the ball wide. Somehow blasted his way through a pair of Fijian defenders to score his second try just a few minutes later. Was the victim of his side’s ill-discipline as he was sent to the sin bin just as Fiji were awarded a penalty try. Staked his claim for the vacant second-five jersey well.
13. Rieko Ioane – 6
Penalised in the fifth minute for not releasing the ball after being tackled, which enabled Fiji to kick their first points of the night. Great distribution skills to set up Jordie Barrett for his try. Looked to take on the defensive line plenty of times, but was covered well, although he did make a barnstorming run up the middle of the park to almost put Finlay Christie away for his first test try.
14. Sevu Reece – 6.5
Unlucky not to score off Jordie Barrett’s early cross kick as he struggled to keep the bouncing ball under control. Good interlinking play with Jordie Barrett to set the fullback away for a linebreak in the 20th minute. Bumped off far too easily by Samuel Matavesi as Fiji romped over for their second try. Sliced through a disjointed Fijian defensive line to burst upfield like a hot knife through butter in the 51st minute. He and Will Jordan stand as the best wings in the current All Blacks squad.
15. Jordie Barrett – 6
Used his spiralling bomb kicks frequently. Like Havili, Barrett hopped into first receiver on occasion to alleviate the pressure off his older brother’s shoulders. Was rewarded with the first try of the match on the back of some outstanding catching-and-passing. Forced to front up defensively early in the second half as Fiji stormed into enemy territory. Nice catch-and-pass to assist Bridge’s try. The battle for the fullback jersey with Damian McKenzie is still very much alive. Off in the 68th minute.
16. Dane Coles – 8
On in the 50th minute. Rumbled over for a try from the back of a maul not long after coming onto the field. Bagged another one in almost exactly the same fashion. Burst into an acre of open space and looked as if he didn’t quite know what to do with himself in that situation. Picked up a third try off the back of the maul again, and then scampered over untouched for his fourth.
17. Ethan de Groot – 6
On in the 50th minute. Received a massive roar from his home crowd upon his induction to the match for his test debut, but his first noticeable piece of play was giving away a penalty by pretty much jumping on top of the Fijian halfback who didn’t have the ball in what was probably an act of overeagerness. Defended stoutly where needed.
18. Tyrel Lomax – 6
On in the 50th minute. Not too many noteworthy moments to speak of. Moved his big frame around the place where necessary.
19. Sam Whitelock – 7
On in the 59th minute. Came on and defended his heart out as Fiji applied a ton of pressure deep inside the opposition’s half. Strong influence off the bench.
20. Luke Jacobson – 7
On in the 67th minute. Bruising physicality with ball in hand, as we’ve come to expect from the powerhouse Chiefs loose forward.
21. Finlay Christie – 7
On in the 68th minute. Brought plenty impetus off the bench, which led to Will Jordan’s try. Cut the Fijian defensive line apart on a couple of occasions. Looks a great prospect to bring on against tiring defences.
22. Damian McKenzie – 6
On in the 24th minute. Was given a big shakeup in his first real touch of the game as he was hammered by Levani Botia while trying to take on the opposition defence. Proceeded to give away a penalty for not releasing the ball. Off in the 34th minute. Back on in the 68th minute. Not his finest outing but was livewire nonetheless.
23. Will Jordan – 6.5
On in the 66th minute. Bagged yet another try as he capped off a sweeping attack move from short range. Now has eight tries in four tests.
By Alex McLeod, @RugbyPass