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'Had a point to prove': All Blacks praised after improved performance vs Wales

By Finn Morton
Ardie Savea of New Zealand breaks to score their sixth try despite being tackled by Will Rowlands (R) and Rio Dyer during the Autumn International match between Wales and New Zealand All Blacks at the Principality Stadium on November 05, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup winner Mils Muliaina has praised the All Blacks for their improved performance against Wales last weekend, saying “the rustiness wasn’t quite there” anymore.

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While the All Blacks are always somewhat under pressure, the European leg of their Northern Tour was always going to be a hot topic of discussion a year out from the Rugby World Cup.

After an up and down international season which included historic losses to Ireland and Argentina, New Zealand began their Northern Tour with an unconvincing win over giant slayers Japan.

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The All Blacks survived a genuine scare against the Brave Blossoms, who trailed by just four points with a minute to play, to win 38-31.

But the All Blacks may have silenced some of their critics for at least another week after a 55-23 demolition of 2021 Six Nations champions Wales at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.

Speaking on The Breakdown, All Blacks centurion Muliaina said the team will still be “disappointed” with some areas of their game after the win over Wales.

“I thought the rustiness wasn’t quite there, there’s a lot of players that came back that hadn’t played for five or six weeks. Ardie Savea for me was sensational,” Muliaina said.

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“There were areas in their game they’ll be disappointed about, particularly keeping the Welsh in the game.

“But I thought the physicality that they showed, the ruck ball and the speed that they got particularly up front was pretty good.”

The All Blacks got off to a roaring start in Cardiff, with hooker Codie Taylor crossing for two tries inside the opening 20 minutes.

While New Zealand managed to protect a relatively comfortable lead for most of the Test, the hosts fought their way back to trail by just six early in the second half.

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But the All Blacks scored five tries to one in the second 40, including a double to record-breaking scrum half Aaron Smith, and ran away with a 55-23 win.

“That’s been the most improved part of the All Blacks performance is just the physicality. I just thought we saw a lot more passion in the boy’s performance this week,” former Black Ferns star Chelsea Semple said.

“They were really competitive at every breakdown, they were physical, making big tackles. I enjoyed watching that game and I think the Welsh will be a little bit disappointed by their own performance.

“They did score a couple of really nice tris, one particular off a scrum set-piece, a really well executed move.

“I think Ian Foster and the group have done an awesome job coming off the back of the Japan Test to get the boys up and humming another level.”

New Zealand are now on a five Test winning streak, although criticism and scrutiny continues to follow the team a year out from rugby’s ultimate event.

After their far from clinical display against Japan, Samoan international Taylah Johnson believed the All Blacks played like they “had a point to prove” against Wales.

“The All Blacks played like a team that had a point to prove as well,” Johnson said.

“Yes, they got the win over Japan and we’ll be naïve to think they don’t read the comments on social media and everything like that.

“That team went out there to do a job and they did it, and even on defence they had some outstanding plays on defence as well.

“Everyone on that field really gave everything that night, not that they ever don’t, but you could see that extra passion and determination.”

The All Blacks have two more Test matches to play on their tour to the Northern Hemisphere, with a crunch clash with Scotland at Murrayfield coming up this weekend.

New Zealand then finish their international season with a blockbuster against traditional rivals England at Twickenham.

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