What a game. New Zealand versus Australia on Saturday was an all-time classic packed full of drama, edge and some truly world-class rugby.
Compared to the abysmal performance last week, the Wallabies showed why they are still one of the most dangerous teams on the planet. But, ultimately, the All Blacks’ class shone through.
Here’s how the players fared out of ten.
Scott Sio – 5
Got his hands on the ball a couple of times, but still absolutely pasted by Nepo Laulala. Didn’t give his side any stability in the scrum, which was a major factor over the duration of the game.
Lacked support and weight from his second row but will still be disappointed on being shunted backwards so often.
Stephen Moore – 5
Another who had a few nice moments in the first half, showing some gentle hands in the build-up phases. The lineout worked, but question marks remain about his size and physicality. Tatafu Polota-Nau improved proceedings, perhaps showing that Moore was part of the reason the scrum failed.
Allan Alaalatoa – 4
Like last week, he mirrored Scott Sio’s performance. Both men are powerful in the loose but really struggle at scrum time. Joe Moody had him on toast all afternoon. A tough match and replaced by Sekope Kepu who should start next week.
Rob Simmons – 6
Has to shoulder some of the blame for the failures at the scrum. Needs to offer much more support in the engine room. Apart from that, he was abrasive and tackled hard. Definitely aided the improved defensive effort and he was often seen making double hits with his second row partner Rory Arnold.
5. Rory Arnold – 8
A massive effort today as Arnold played the role expected of him. His size and carries in midfield gave Australia more go forward ball and he lived up to his potential today. Fronted up and wasn’t intimidated by Brodie Retallick, who schooled him last weekend. Proved a lot of doubters wrong and he wasn’t even supposed to be starting.
6. Ned Hannigan – 7
Keen to get his hands on the ball and prove that his ineffectual performance last week was a once off. Made a nuisance of himself and completed over ten tackles. Still showed signs of immaturity, giving away two penalties but much more promising from the young 6.
Michael Hooper – 8
Showed typical dogged determination for his try and he had more impact today in the loose with his bustling energy. His combination with the titanic Sean McMahon gave the All Blacks all sorts of problems and he edged his battle with Ardie Savea. A captain’s knock, unlucky to be on the losing side.
Sean McMahon – 9
McMahon had the impossible job of looking after the ball at the base of the scrum, but managed to salvage the ball on more than one occasion. Heroic intervention for the disallowed Ben Smith try and ten times more input this week with some big carries and an important turnover. Seemed to be everywhere until the very last minutes. Colossal and possibly Man of the Match.
Will Genia – 9
Another who put his hand up for the Man of the Match award. Excellent service all afternoon despite being behind a weak scrum effort. Looks to be back to his best. His break to set up the Foley try was reminiscent of the Genia who first burst onto the scene. Inspirational in the last 15 minutes, with an electric break and a well-earned try. Buzzed around the fringes all day.
Bernard Foley – 5
Great support for his try, but you can’t ignore the four missed kicks. In a tight game, you need those points to sail over and he cost his side dearly. Got the backline firing but will rue those missed points.
Henry Speight – 5
Hard to remember him touching the ball. When he gets going he is hard to put down but didn’t come off his wing at all and should seek to offer himself more. He was bundled into touch twice and needs to be smarter with ball in hand. Not as loose in defence this week but went missing for huge periods of the game.
Kurtley Beale – 7
An uncharacteristically defensive display. Beale looked physical and even turned over Sonny Bill Williams in the tackle. Looks much more comfortable next to Tevita Kuridrani. His try in the 75th-minute capped a brave performance. Starting to look like a leader in this Wallaby side.
Tevita Kuridrani – 8
Compared to Samu Kerevi’s horror show last week he was a revelation. His running lines gave the All Black midfield a world of problems and his direct style made lots of metres. Must be commended for forcing handling errors from Sonny Bill and keeping Barrett and Crotty honest.
Dane Haylett-Petty – 6
Saw almost no ball on his wing but was happy to carry when called upon. Needed to watch Ioane with a closer eye, which is easier said than done. A quiet game amongst all the mayhem.
Israel Folau – 8
The danger man. Devastating from full-back in the first half. Shackled slightly later on in the game but his influence is undeniable. Strode purposefully whenever he had the ball and covered the ground beautifully all afternoon.
Joe Moody – 8
Mr. Consistency in the All Black pack. So unassuming and often underestimated, Moody completely demolished the Aussie front row along with Nepo Laulala as they piled on the pressure. Not as prominent in the loose, but should receive more plaudits for his role in the team.
Dane Coles – 7
A perfect Lineout performance from the returning hooker. Didn’t get the opportunity to stretch his legs and go marauding as we know he can, but his work at set piece was integral. Carried when needed and the All Blacks will be happy to have him back.
Nepo Laulala – 8
A huge return to the Kiwi front row. Tore through Scott Sio and made sure the Aussies were on the back foot all afternoon. Made some important tackles in broken play when Australia were starting to build momentum. The loss of Owen Franks was barely noticed and Laulala looked world-class, despite being against a weak front row.
Brodie Retallick – 7
Outshone by Rory Arnold who had a monstrous 80 minutes. Retallick had some cute moments though, using his soft hands in the build-up to two tries. Grew into the game in the last 20 minutes with a few of his usual carriers, but his battle with Rory Arnold ends 1-1.
Sam Whitelock – 7
Tirelessly grafted as expected. His work on the restart was vital to the Kiwis retaining possession and his work in the lineout was perfect. Insane to think he managed to keep up with the ridiculous pace set in the game, clearing out rucks and making tackles. Along with Moody, continues to do the unseen work.
Liam Squire – 7
Not quite the dominant performance of last week but still gave his body to the cause and was a willing runner until the very end. A confrontational player, Squire’s rangy, awkward running style punched holes all afternoon. Two good games against the Wallabies.
Sam Cane (replaced by Ardie Savea) – 6
Cane’s head injury meant Savea got over 65 minutes today. At fault for the Genia try, missing a tackle on the scrum half. Apart from this, he continues to demonstrate that he is a more dynamic, powerful option than Cane, pumping his legs like pistons every time he got the ball. A terrier in the contact area, it will be interesting to see who Steve Hansen picks next.
Kieran Read – 7
Some brave decision-making at times looked to cost New Zealand points, but it paid off with two tries coming from set plays. Instrumental in the build-up to the final try retaining the ball off the kick-off and having a hand in setting up the final break. A missed tackle on Michael Hooper is a rare error from the Kiwi legend.
Aaron Smith – 8
Just so hard to contain. Was guilty of trying to force it at times in the first half, but when it clicks he is lethal. Showed unnerving awareness for the Rieko Ioane try and showcased his sharp footwork for a try of his own. Once again an energetic performance in what was a great tussle with Will Genia.
Beauden Barrett – 7
Barrett was brave in the face of big carries from Kuridrani and Folau. Lay dormant for periods of the game and then exploded twice at key moments, slicing through the Australian defence with trademark arching runs. The best attacking fly-half in the world and, importantly, he kicked his goals.
Rieko Ioane – 9
What a talent. Blistering form. Every time he touches the ball he fizzes over the turf at a rate of knots, gliding past defenders with clean break after clean break. His try was evidence that he is deadly from short range as well. At 20 years of age, he looks like the most dangerous wing on the planet.
Sonny Bill Williams – 5
Five handling errors is just not good enough. Certainly guilty of trying to force the miracle pass as well. Overran his lines on more than one occasion and even got outmuscled by Kurtley Beale in the contact area. Kuridrani kept him honest and the much improved Australia back line gave him no room to show off. A poor showing.
Ryan Crotty – 6
Struggled with concussion problems and Anton Lienhart-Brown offered a more direct option when he was on the field. Another who looked to struggle with Kuridrani’s power. Crotty grew into the game in the last ten minutes after spending much of the game down the tunnel or defending.
Ben Smith – 7
Quiet until called upon. Not as influential as when he starts at full-back, but Smith is such an intelligent player, never allowing the ball to die or go into touch. A couple of nice offloads topped off an assured performance.
Damian McKenzie – 7
At fault for the telegraphed pass, intercepted by Israel Folau. Otherwise, McKenzie had a good understanding with Aaron Smith, coming around the corner to collect the no-look pass a few times. Always looks to join the line and even made a turnover on the wallabies’ line.
Max Hamid, Pundit Arena
[gravityform id=”1″ title=”true” description=”true”]