The All Blacks’ first game of the season is traditionally one when the players shake off the rust and is usually characterised by unforced errors and misfiring combinations. Not at Eden Park. Not in 2017. So which players booked their places for the first test against the Lions in the 78-0 thrashing of Samoa?
15 Ben Smith 8.5
It gets a bit boring typing the same thing about Ben Smith season after season. Efficient, skilled, defensively sound, strategically brilliant. Oh, wait -something new. He was All Black captain for the first time in the Samoa match.
14 Israel Dagg 8.5
When Israel Dagg starts to get a bit of a strut to his play, he’s seamless and often peerless. That strut returned in the second half of the Samoa game and we were treated to many of the Dagg tricks -the goosestep, the pace, the offloads. Dagg needed a big game after an average outing against the Lions for the Crusaders – and he delivered. Highest metres gained in the game with 127 from 10 runs.
13 Anton Lienert-Brown 9
From fairly anonymous early season form for the Chiefs to an absolute stormer of a game for the All Blacks last night, ALB’s play seems to rise to match the level of the team he’s playing in. His combination with Sonny Bill Williams had a couple of rocky defensive moments in the first half, but on attack these two offloading freaks (8 evenly split in the game) look lethal. Three clean breaks and beat five defenders.
12 Sonny Bill Williams 8.5
Slipped off a couple of tackles in the first half but was pretty much perfect in all other aspects of his game. Excellent hands to catch firstly Beauden Barrett’s fast flat pass to score and then he caught another bullet from Aaron Smith after the Ben Smith breakout. SBW then delivered an offload onto the foot on the onrushing Beauden Barrett which in turn led to a try. Luck? Players like SBW and Barrett do moves like this so often that it can’t be. Also showed a useful short kicking game (does he really need it?).
11 Julian Savea 8
A busy, very encouraging game from the Bus. Got more and more involved in the game, scored his 46th test try equalling Christian Cullen and only three behind All Black record holder Doug Howlett. Provided excellent link play in many of the tries.
10 Beauden Barrett 9
Outstanding game and ominous signs for the Lions. Scored a brilliant try using his football skills and electric pace in the first half, and was involved in most of the All Blacks attacking raids until he was subbed. A big tick in the place kicking column too, with 8 out of 9 kicks successful.
9 Aaron Smith 7
Snappy passing and support play but outshone by TJ Perenara’s brilliant second half. Smith’s box kicking was a little inaccurate and overplayed at times. Defensively very sound.
8 Ardie Savea 8.5
Big, tough, fast and excellent stamina. 15 tackles with no misses, two tries, two clean breaks and 56 running metres. Is All Black captain Kieran Read now under a touch of pressure to match flying Ardie’s deeds?
7 Sam Cane 8
Strong game full of combative tackling, solid driving and link play. 15 tackles but slipped off a couple. Scored a try at the end of a fantastic sweeping move. With Kieran Read certain to return in the first test, Cane probably did enough to hold off Ardie Savea for the All Black starting no.7 jersey.
6 Jerome Kaino 7
A very solid return from the blindside warrior. Completed 14 brutal tackles and was a monster in the maul as usual. Also a go-to man in the line out. Quiet with the ball in hand. Will Steve Hansen be tempted to put Ardie Savea in at no.6?
5 Sam Whitelock 7
Another who didn’t feature much in the All Blacks’ sweeping counterattacks but was very sound in the lineouts and kickoff receptions.
4 Brodie Retallick 9
It seemed that the cyborg-like Retallick had been cloned in this game such was his knack of being in just the right positions throughout the game. His marauding runs were frightening to watch and he showed his outstanding ball skills in catching and offloading at will. Laid down a marker for Itoje and Kruis for next week with 59 running metres, two clean breaks and beating three defenders.
3 Owen Franks 7.5
Some huge hits in the tackle and looked strong and mobile around the park and in the tight. Industrious, with ten completed tackles.
2 Codie Taylor 8
Not the same attacking threat as Dane Coles, but will be very happy with his scrums and line out throwing. Scored a good try and completed an excellent 14 tackles.
1 Joe Moody 8
Ran two more metres with the ball (3 in total) and tackled three more defenders than his doppelganger Franks. Secured propping bragging rights over beers after the match.
S Barrett 8, V Fifita 7.5, TJ Perenara 9, J Barrett 8, L Sopoaga 7.5, N Harris 7, W Crockett 7.5, Charlie Faumuina 7.5.