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Player Ratings: A big Tokyo scare

OPINION: The All Blacks travelled to Tokyo to take on Japan in the first match of their Northern tour and were met by a plucky Brave Blossoms side that never gave up.

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A tight game in the opening twenty minutes gave way as Japan’s discipline faded deep in the first half. Three All Black tries by the half-hour point put the home side under pressure but they bounced back with two quick tries to head to the sheds down by four points, 21-17.

The All Blacks kept the lead in the second half but never looked completely convincing in their 38-31 win. Here’s how they rated.

Ben Smith rates the All Blacks players :

1. George Bower – 4/10

Scrum platform was solid early. Pushed the pass a couple of times and missed a couple of tackles. Not Bower’s most imposing performance. Off after 54.

2. Samisoni Taukei’aho – 6.5

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A late injury to Dane Coles meant Taukei’aho took over the starting role, but first few line-outs were troublesome. He burst through the Japanese line in the 10th minute on a set-piece play to set up the first try for Retallick and didn’t look back, fixing the line-out woes and dominating Japan in the carry.

Off after 54 mins in another typical Taukei’aho performance.

3. Nepo Laulala – 5

Strong defence early and was asked to carry in close a bit. A couple of sloppy tackle errors but overall an okay performance. Off after 54.

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4. Brodie Retallick – 4

Scored the opening try after a Taukei’aho bust up the middle and helped rectify the lineout after early wobbles, becoming the All Blacks main target on the night.

His night turned for the worse when he was called up for a low cleanout leading with the shoulder on the back of Himeno’s neck in the second half, deemed to be a red card by the officials. Gave Japan a one man advantage which they used to storm back into the game.

5. Tupou Vaa’i – 5

Line-out wobbles early with two messy grabs, one of which led to a knock-on. A few errors with ball-in-hand including an attempted round the back offload gone wrong which was indicative of his night. Ruck work rather inefficient at times, but the positive for Vaa’i was his workrate with nine carries and 10 tackles.

Moved to No 6 for final twenty and played the entire match.

6. Shannon Frizell – 5

Got involved with the line-out as a third option, was asked to do a lot of cleaning work around the rucks. A couple of passes from the blindside flank hit the turf. The pack struggled to keep efficient cleaning as second half went on. Off for Tuipulotu in the 62nd.

7. Sam Cane (captain) – 6.5

Used as a running option in the midfield off short line-outs. Contested well at the ruck at times and won the All Blacks first breakdown penalty, got through 12 tackles, the most of any All Black.

Cane’s off the ball work a little less than his best with some inefficient angles at times as part of a pack that failed to handle the ruck as the game wore on. For the pack as a whole, despite a strong scrum, the maul was ineffective and handled by Japan rather well until the reserves came on.

8. Hoskins Sotutu – 6

Took the job as one of the All Blacks primary ball carriers. Got caught out on the edge in defence when Japan went wide early and turned the ball over reaching out for the All Blacks first try after a five-metre scrum.

Tired out in the second half a little, but his carries were mostly effective. He bagged a try spinning over for a try to give the All Blacks a key buffer. Off in 65th.

9. Finlay Christie – 3

Had a poor first box kick to start his afternoon. Had overall good speed and delivery around the fast dry track in the first half. However, he had couple of key involvements leading to Japan’s tries. He made a bad read on Nagare’s try, getting caught out by Dylan Riley’s offload. Had a kick charged/intercepted for a try by Japan’s lock Warner Dearns.

10. Richie Mo’unga – 6.5

His first kick charged but he quickly recovered. Made a great cover tackle in the backfield after an early Japan break. Territorial management was good, Mo’unga varied his kicks giving All Blacks contestable opportunities but they didn’t take them, lacking aerial effort from the chase often.

Had a great nudge in behind the line midway through the first half caught by Braydon Ennor on the full but the centre was held up over the line. Produced some Mo’unga magic in the lead up to Ennor’s try with a skillful pass to Tuivasa-Sheck. Combination with Perofeta started to flourish as two pivots in sync.

Defensively a few hiccups, tried his best but got shaken off by Japan’s power winger Fifita. Almost intercepted by Yamanaka but the Japanese wing dropped it.

Some magic but not a total performance.

11. Caleb Clarke – 7

Strong ball carries as usual. Had a great aerial take under a Perofeta bomb but overall the All Blacks kick chase didn’t get many contests. A bursting run in the second half through five Japanese players announced his arrival in Tokyo with Godzilla-level path of destruction. Caught out on defence a few times as Japan stretched the All Blacks but provided impact through his 14 carries for over 100 running metres.

12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – 8

The All Blacks’ best performer in his first start at No 12. Solid first-up tackle on Japan’s first set-piece launch, carried hard on kic-koff receipts and set-piece. Looked threatening with most of his carries. Had a beautiful set play from a planned line-out overthrow, providing a quick catch and pass inside to Sevu Reece who burst up the line-out seam and scored from 40-metres out.

Had some deft offloads to compliment his footwork, linking well with Mo’unga and Perofeta on multiple occasions. Put Caleb Clarke into a half-gap early in the second half and watched his Blues teammate break away for a try. Had five offloads and six defenders beaten and had a hand in multiple tries.

13. Braydon Ennor – 4

A smart kick in behind on a counterattack gave the All Blacks a five-metre scrum. He was tested on defence with Japan’s screen plays, an awkward tackle and failure to roll away led to Japan’s first three points. Bagged a try after some smart lead-up work from Mo’unga, Tuivasa-Sheck and Perofeta.

14. Sevu Reece – 6

Kicked one out of the full after a blindside play from the scrum. Provided good kick-chase pressure but didn’t get up in the air much. Got into the game half an hour in with a beautiful line inside Tuivasa-Sheck to break away for a scintillating try. Pressured in behind quite a lot by Japan’s kicking game.

Had some half chances but Japan’s defence covered well on his edge. Reece had a busy game and got through a ton of work.

15. Stephen Perofeta – 6

Some nice early touches injecting into the line and was prepared to have a run from the back returning Japan’s kicks. Had some golden touches, one in the lead-up to Ennor’s try and another half-break linking with Tuivasa-Sheck. Another from a scrum play put a gorgeous pass on the chest of Reece but the All Black wing ran out of space.

Some mixed moments, a drop trying to field a low Japan kick in the backfield led to the Brave Blossoms first try.

Replacements: 

16. Codie Taylor – 5 – On after 54 mins. A couple of line-out miscues with a new pack on the park. Got penalised for rolling forward too much.

17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 5 – On after 54 mins and did his job, got through five tackles as the All Blacks tried to weather the late storm.

18. Tyrel Lomax – 6 – On after 54 mins. A strong carry to start and good effort in defence.

19. Patrick Tuipulotu – on after 62 mins for Frizell in a reshuffle. Brought energy in defence and helped close out the game.

20. Dalton Papali’i – 6.5 – on in 65th. Brought good speed in defence and looked for a couple ruck contests. Got through an astounding nine tackles in 15 minutes and got the crucial penalty to end the game and save the All Blacks from embarrassment.

21. Aaron Smith – N/A – on in 62nd. Added stability that was missing from Christie at times.

22. David Havili – N/A – Had a nice intercept to stop a Japanese wide movement but was promptly turned over a moment later.

23. Anton Lienert-Brown – 5 – made a key cover tackled on Matsushima that saved the All Blacks on one occasion. Some nice touches to free up the outside man on attack. A bad switch with Sam Cane on the goal line gave Himeno an easy barge over and give the visitors a scare.

By Ben Smith, @RugbyPass

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