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Player Ratings: New Zealand

OPINION: Ian Foster doesn’t believe in dead rubber matches but his selections for 2023’s second Bledisloe Test offered a very dead rubber-esque lineup; the coach handed out three debuts and named a number of further changes across the park.

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The match offered a final chance for various fringe players to prove their worth before the All Blacks‘ World Cup squad is named on Monday. That being said, Ian Foster has made no secret of his mind being fairly made up on which 33 names he will be bringing to the tournament.

Footy was in full swing in Dunedin with action aplenty from the outset of the match. The Wallabies came out swinging but the All Blacks survived both the Wallabies best efforts and their own worst.

The benches were the difference and the All Blacks’ second unit came on and stole the game at the death.

Ned Lester rates the All Blacks players:

1 Tamaiti Williams – 4

After an impressive debut against the Springboks, Williams had a shaky start to Bledisloe 2. He was penalised at scrum time and inaccurate at the breakdown, getting penalised there too. He started to find his feet towards the end of the first half, getting some better collisions in and winning the final scrum of the half.

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The All Blacks came out in the second half with some clearer pod structure and Williams benefitted from it, collecting tip-on balls and winning collisions in the carry.

2 Samisoni Tau’keiaho – 6

With his first starting opportunity in 2023, Taukei’aho looked out of sorts to start the match. The hooker was uncharacteristically inaccurate at lineout time and struggled to find his feet in the carry. He’s an energetic player and his efforts were relentless regardless of the reward he was seeing, his efforts at the breakdown slowed the Wallaby ball down but simply weren’t enough.

3 Nepo Laulala – 5

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After appearing off the bench in the three opening matches of the 2023 season, Laulala got his shot in a starting jersey but ultimately failed to fire. His scrummaging was shown up by his opposite and he was quiet elsewhere around the park.

4 Brodie Retallick – 6.5

It was a short stint on the field for Retallick who left the game after 25 minutes with a knee injury. In those minutes the lock put himself in positions to influence the match all over the field, chasing back on Wallaby linebreaks and making his presence felt at the breakdown.

5 Sam Whitelock – 7

After 144 caps, Whitelock is on the verge of not just becoming the all-time most-capped All Black, but also losing his spot in the starting XV. Whitelock struggled to get a shoulder on with his first few contacts, not for a lack of effort or involvement and he gradually found his feet but it, just be said a more assertive start from the big man would have helped steer his team early.

6 Samipeni Finau – 7.5

A debut to the impressive young workhorse blindside flanker offered a potential glimpse into the future of the All Blacks No.6 jersey – and it’s a bright one. Finau was typically hungry for work but his execution missed the mark early. Some heavy collisions impressed but any runner not directly within his grasp often fell through his fingers.

A try put his team in front and was further proof of his strong carrying ability. Finau was one of the few All Blacks who won the collision consistently throughout the match.

7 Sam Cane (captain) – 8

The All Blacks’ defensive line wasn’t gelling in the opening stages but when Cane got a chance to slot himself into the action the line held firmer and the captain looked to make plays, spying opportunities to rush the Wallaby attack.

The captain proved himself a stoic leader amidst a chaotic match, providing a calm head for his team throughout the mess. The All Blacks of old win games like this through their composure and star power and this match – while at times woeful – showed glimpses of that tenacity, a promising sign ahead of the World Cup.

8 Ardie Savea – 7

Savea is unfazed by the chaos of the match, playing his usual game as if all was well. His runs were influential but his threat at the breakdown was dimmed by the Wallaby pack and he was outmuscled by some of the bigger Wallaby forwards.

9 Finlay Christie – 7.5

With pressure mounting for Cam Roigard to claim the No 21 jersey for the World Cup, Christie had an opportunity to put the noise to rest in Dunedin. The scrumhalf’s defence shone brightly early and his composure was impressive amidst a poor first half from his side. The All Blacks forwards provided a poor platform for long stretches and the halfback’s opportunities suffered but his passing remained quality.

10 Damian McKenzie – 3.5

McKenzie couldn’t buy a decent kick in the game. Poorly executed tactical kicks went dead or were claimed in the 22 while touchfinders missed the sideline. His running game at first receiver failed to threaten the Australian line and he couldn’t find any runners.

A try assist and touchline conversion promised a better second half but another two poor kicks saw him replaced in the 49th minute.

11 Leicester Fainga’anuku – 7

Super Rugby Pacific’s leading try-scorer has finally overcome his injury troubles and injected himself into the match with strong carries early, winning the collision frequently. There were considerable quiet periods throughout the match for the winger but he had a huge impact when chances did come his way.

12 Anton Lienert-Brown – 5

Lienert-Brown benefitted from his move to No 13, getting more touches and more opportunities in the second half. After an energetic injection into the match last week, ALB struggled to make a real positive impact on the match.

13 Braydon Ennor – 7.5

Ennor lasted just under 40 minutes in the match but those minutes were more impressive than most. His defensive instincts consistently put him in good positions while on attack, his support lines rewarded linebreaks. A linebreak of his own was one of the few moments the All Blacks attack looked threatening but it was a just a minute later he was struck down by injury.

14 Shaun Stevenson – 4.5

The much-anticipated debut started with two tries in Steveson’s corner, one to Marika Koroibete and one to Tom Hooper. The physicality of the Wallaby runners proved a handful for Stevenson throughout but most of his collisions on the defensive side were at least enough to take the sting out and give his support time to arrive.

A try to start the second half didn’t require much but will be a memorable moment for the debutant nonetheless. Stevenson chased a number of kicks but was too passive in following them up, not offering much pressure on the return kick or seeking the tackle.

15 Will Jordan – 6.5

A lot of ball went Jordan’s way in the match and while the elusive back spied a few running opportunities, he mostly handed the ball off to McKenzie to handle the return kicking. His runs early saved the All Blacks from a half of complete misery but he failed to fire in the second period

Replacements

16 Dane Coles – 7

17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 8

The second unit dominated the scrum.

18 Fletcher Newell – 8

Newell was huge at scrum time and reserved yet opportunistic at the breakdown, applying pressure and proving strong over the ball when contesting.

19 Tupou Vaa’i – 6

20 Luke Jacobson – 7

21 Aaron Smith – 7.5

22 Richie Mo’unga – 8.5

Mo’unga’s injection into the match was a turning point, he brought calmness and structure. The flyhalf claimed multiple great highball takes and of course slotted the game-winner.

23 Dallas McLeod – 6

By Ned Lester, Rugbypass

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