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Player Ratings: One-way traffic

OPINION: The All Blacks kicked off the 2023 Rugby Championship campaign with an impressive 41-12 win over Argentina in Mendoza after a first-half blitz saw the visitors up by 31-0 at the half.

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Los Pumas fought back to win the second half as the All Blacks defence was tested frequently, but they couldn’t mount a successful charge to give the home crowd much to cheer about.

Here’s how the All Blacks rated in Mendoza:

1 Ethan de Groot – 7.5

The All Blacks pack stood up and controlled both the set-piece and the gain line. The front row dominated at scrum time taking five penalties from the set-piece. De Groot had a large part in that while getting through a solid work rate around the park, getting through six tackles and five carries. Off at 53 minutes.

2 Dane Coles – 7.5

Opened the scoring after running a great support line outside of Scott Barrett to break through and dash 20 metres home. The lineout functioned well, connecting with young lock Josh Lord and Scott Barrett as his main targets, with Shannon Frizell at the tail. There was one mishap overthrow but for the most part it was clean ball off the top for Aaron Smith or a solid maul foundation. Off at 45 minutes.

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3 Tyrel Lomax – 8

The tighthead prop was key to the scrummaging effort which milked penalty after penalty to piggyback down the field. Nearly every Pumas’ error ended with an All Blacks penalty from the ensuing scrum. Lomax had one big tackle on the goal line which helped prevent a try with Argentina still on 0 points. Finished with eight tackles in total. Off at 60 minutes.

4 Scott Barrett – 9

One of the All Blacks best on the day, Scott was immense in close quarters putting in some dominant hits. Finished with nine belting tackles on the afternoon, was a key target at the lineout, while getting around the park doing the dirty work at the breakdowns. Had six carries also, including the try assists to Coles with some nice hands at the line.

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5 Josh Lord – 7

The young Chiefs lock stood up and made his mark as he took on the fiery Argentine pack. Didn’t take a step back. Was the primary lineout target early on and ran the plays effectively. Pressured the Pumas’ lineout a couple of times, nearly coming up with a steal but it was knocked on. Off at 53 minutes.

6 Shannon Frizell – 7.5

An industrious performance from Frizell whose off-the-ball work at the set-piece, maul, and rucks was underrated. Got through 11 tackles, including three dominant as well as 12 carries.

7 Sam Cane – 8

The All Blacks captain was penalised once in the first half for tackling a man without the ball but other than that was out delivering punishing hits as he got through a team-high 15 tackles. His rib tickler on winger Sebastian Cancelliere was a highlight, who tried to run down Cane’s channel off a scrum. The No 7 crunched him and the ball spilled loose for a turnover.

8 Ardie Savea – 7.5

What was deemed as a ‘quiet’ day from Savea still included 15 carries. The workhorse No.8 was the main ball carrier coming out of trouble, to get the All Blacks out of their own half. He had a key carry off a lineout on their own goal line, taking a deliberate overthrow on the five and powering his way to the edge of the 22 to give the side breathing space. Added a ruck turnover in the second half to repel a Pumas’ wave of attack and scored a try from close range on a pick-and-go.

9 Aaron Smith – 7.5

Provided good service all afternoon in the sunny and dry conditions as the All Blacks controlled their ruck effectively. Ball of the top of the lineout was offered up to centre Jordie Barrett frequently on a nice, flat Smith pass. Late in the first, the All Blacks let a few ruck turnovers creep in, not Smith’s fault, but he bounced back from those turnovers and stole a try from close range with a big dummy.

10 Damian McKenzie – 8

A shaky start with a charged clearance kick but the crisis was averted by McKenzie diving on the loose ball. Cleared lines well after that and patrolled the backfield well with Beauden Barrett, who also took some of the load at first receiver off McKenzie.

He got better as the game went on, providing a try assist for Rieko Ioane with a flat short ball, another one to Beauden after a clean break off the scrum, and a final third assist to debutant Emoni Narawa. His goal-kicking was really the only blemish on a brilliant performance from the No 10, who spent the last 20 minutes at fullback.

All Blacks forwards took a lot of carries off Smith while McKenzie looked to spark a strike in tandem with Beauden Barrett a couple of times with some switch plays pivoting direction off the rucks.

11 Caleb Clarke – 7

The Blues winger didn’t get a lot of space in this clash but he offered up a reliable and valuable performance. He was solid under the high ball, always strong in contact and provided on occasion with his passing game. It was Clarke’s deft pass that freed up the Barrett brothers for a long-range strike down the blind side. He had an offload to Beauden Barrett after taking a crossfield kick that was knocked down five metres from the line. On another day that sticks and Barrett walks in.

12 Jordie Barrett – 9.5

This was a tremendous showing by the younger Barrett at No 12, who was the focal point of the All Blacks set-piece attack. In the first half he carried hard into the Pumas defence and offered Ioane a flat ball on occasion, before opening up his options in the second half and linking more out the back. A backdoor pass provided a line break for McKenzie, who converted it into a try with a final pass to Beauden.

He linked up with brother Beauden down the blindside to create & finish a long-range strike in the first half. In defence he was up to the challenge, logging 15 tackles as he chopped down Argentinian runners everywhere across the park. He helped save a try in cover defence, combining with Narawa to hammer Matias Moroni over the sideline by the corner flag. He even added a ruck turnover late in the second half.

A commanding performance from the midfielder that delivered the game plan nearly to perfection.

13 Rieko Ioane – 8.5

Ioane was outstanding in this match, not overplaying his hand but playing the role of supporting centre exceptionally. Had a line break early, the first of the afternoon, and then hit a hard angle against the grain and beat three defenders for a try a short while after that. Kept running the short option line outside Barrett with intent every time, even though mostly ended up as a decoy. Defended the outside channels really well with both wings.

14 Emoni Narawa – 8

Almost had a dream start when he pulled in a spilt Beauden Barrett bomb with his second touch and raced away down the right-hand touchline. However, he was chased down by the Pumas cover defence. Was dangerous on the flank any time the ball came his way, although there was a timing issue on a strike play that saw Caleb Clarke’s wide pass sail into touch in front of him. Defensively was strong and the Pumas didn’t find success that way. Finished his debut with a well-earned try after McKenzie found him unmarked on the edge.

15 Beauden Barrett – 9

Answered the critics with a resounding performance in the No.15 jersey. Scored a try, and set-up another to brother Jordie, while kicking well out-of-hand to deliver the All Blacks kicking plan, which was to bomb infield out of exit zones and put the back three under the spotlight.

Covered space well in the backfield and produced a double team effort with McKenzie to bring down No.8 Rodrigo Bruni to save a try. Was like two lions taking down a buffalo. Was off at 60 minutes for Mo’unga, who went into 10 with McKenzie moving to fullback.

Replacements:

16 Codie Taylor – 7

Had the most minutes coming in early and performed very well, making a heap of tackles and keeping the line integrity in tact. Made his throws for the most part with one pinched.

17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 6
Slipped a couple of tackles but his work rate was high and carried hard.

18 Nepo Laulala – 6
Same for Nepo but overall was a good bench performance on defence, as Pumas only cracked them once late with a barge over try.

19 Tupou Vaa’i – 8
Came on for Lord and was exceptional, took many lineouts, was physical on defence and came up with a lineout steal.

20 Dalton Papalii – 6
High energy burst from Dalton who only got 14 minutes of action.

21 Finlay Christie – 6
Came on and provided good service but the All Blacks attack couldn’t muster much late.

22 Richie Mo’unga – 6
Offered some decent distribution and kicked a lot to close out the game but made a couple of errors.

23 Braydon Ennor – N/A
came on for eight minutes but didn’t see enough action to rate.

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