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Player Ratings: New Zealand

OPINION: In the opening match of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it was the visitors New Zealand who struck first against hosts France, with Mark Telea touching down following a passage of strong attacking play from the All Blacks.

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The game remained close throughout the opening stanza with both sides trading penalties in the first half. The second half was a different story, however, with Les Bleus taking control of the match and eventually fighting their way to a confident 27-13 victory.

How did the All Blacks rate in defeat?

1. Ethan de Groot – 4/10
Had a tough evening up against the sizeable Uini Atonio, copping two penalties in the first half. Dropped the ball trucking it up when NZ were hot on attack when he really needed to deliver it wide. Off in 53rd minute.

2. Codie Taylor – 5
One stray throw aside, was tidy at lineout time. Probably needed to give De Groot more support at the scrum and threw one errant pass to the sideline when the All Blacks were within sniffing distance of the try line. Off in 57th minute.

3. Nepo Laulala – 5
Did what Nepo Laulala normally does. Delivered a couple of stingers on defence. His side of the scrum held up throughout. Off in 53rd minute.

4. Sam Whitelock – 6
Focused on the tight work, hitting breakdowns and levelling ball runners on defence. Off in 69th minute.

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5. Scott Barrett – 9
Made up for his red card at Twickenham with an exceptional performance on both sides of the ball at the Stade de France – just wait for the highlights package. Led the All Blacks’ defence, charging out of the line to put pressure on the French attack, and was called upon to make some crucial cover tackles. He eventually finished the match as the All Blacks’ most prolific tackler. Grabbed one kick-off with a nice leap and made a couple of good runs with the ball in hand.

6. Tupou Vaa’i – 4
Brought in as a last-minute replacement for Sam Cane and was curiously handed the relatively unfamiliar No. 6 jersey. Couldn’t clear out Julien Marchand when the French hooker went searching for the ball immediately following the opening try, with France winning the breakdown penalty. Shelled the ball when carrying out from NZ’s 22, putting his team under pressure. Didn’t duck his head, however, and made a key tackle in France’s next set of possession to prevent what looked like a certain try. Off in the 57th minute.

7. Dalton Papali’i – 5
Struggled to make any impact at the breakdown. Popped up a couple of times in open field but was pushed around by his seemingly larger opposition. Finished as NZ’s second-top tackler. A pointless shove in the back gifted France a five-metre lineout, which led to their first try of the game.

8. Ardie Savea – 6
Built into the game as it went but wasn’t able to generate the momentum he’s normally capable of. Had some strong moments at the breakdown, spearheading one turnover inside France’s 22. One perfectly weighted chip kick eventually led to NZ’s second try of the evening.

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9. Aaron Smith – 6
Hassled the world’s best player well, throwing Antoine Dupont off his game early doors. Gave his players good delivery of the ball but once or twice picked the wrong runner. Off in 63rd minute.

10. Richie Mo’unga – 7
Couldn’t find touch with his first penalty kick of the night and wasn’t finding as much distance as Beauden Barrett, but was in excellent form with the ball in hand. Made one exceptional cover tackle on Damian Penaud to prevent a try. Goal-kicking radar wasn’t on the money but still a strong performance at first receiver.

11. Mark Telea – 7
Dealt well with a bouncing, slippery ball to touch down for his side’s first try. Dangerous whenever he got his hands on the ball – and regularly went looking for work. Lost the pill on a couple of occasions when he outran his support. Off in 72nd minute.

12. Anton Lienert-Brown – 6
Dropped a lovely short ball off to his midfield partner to create the break that led to the first All Blacks try. Made a couple of hit-ups when required but otherwise was quiet throughout his remaining time on the field. Off in 63rd minute.

13. Rieko Ioane – 7
Played a crucial role in New Zealand’s first two tries. Showed off the importance of pace in the midfield with a searing early break that eventually resulted in the game’s opening score and then threw a nice miss pass after half time to give Mark Telea an easy run in for the second. Threatened to pierce the line whenever he got the ball but never quite slipped through, bar that first run. Made a couple of crucial tackles, including one covering hit on Gregory Alldritt when France looked lightly.

14. Will Jordan – 2
A bit of a shocker from the New Zealand wunderkind. Spent much of the game chasing high balls. Pinged for running under France fullback Thomas Ramos twice, with the second occurrence seeing him sent to the bin in the 58th minute.

15. Beauden Barrett – 6
His trademark kick-pass delivered the All Blacks their first try of the night. A wide cut-out ball drifted forward, handing France a scrum in a strong attacking position. Found some good distance with a couple of nice spiral clearances.

Replacements:

16. Samisoni Taukei’aho – 6
On in 57th minute. Hit his lineouts and tried to generate some go forward – though not to any massive effect. Copped a penalty for going off his feet at the breakdown.

17. Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 4
On in 53rd minute. Penalised for collapsing a maul and offered little in open play.

18. Fletcher Newell – 6
On in 53rd minute. Busied himself on defence. Pinged for not rolling away.

19. Brodie Retallick – N/A
On in 69th minute. Joined the bench late due to the Sam Cane injury.

20. Luke Jacobson – 7
On in 57th minute. Made a couple of nice carries and threw some short useful short passes. Probably a better starting option than the man he replaced.

21. Finlay Christie – 5
On in 63rd minute. Wasn’t able to add any zip to the All Blacks’ attack – quite the opposite, really.

22. David Havili – 6
On in 63rd minute. Showed off his best asset with a nice kick-pass to Telea.

23. Leicester Fainga’anuku – N/A
On in 72nd minute.

By Tom Vinicombe, @RugbyPass

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