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All Blacks XV player ratings vs Japan XV

By Ned Lester
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 08: Stephen Perofeta of All Blacks XV celebrates with teammates after the team's first try during the international test between Japan XV and All Blacks XV at Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground on July 8, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

An entrée to the mouthwatering serving of international rugby on this weekend, the All Blacks XV squad featured more than a handful of players with All Blacks experience and World Cup ambitions.

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Motivated and coached by future All Blacks assistant Leon MacDonald, the All Blacks XV faced a Japan XV side led by the great Michael Leitch.

Japan’s superbly executed rush defensive line was the story of the first half, the pressure was felt by the All Blacks XV and forced mistakes making for a low-scoring affair in the opening 40.

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The second half promised a more dynamic game and the New Zealand side capitalised, building momentum and adjusting to the line speed with deeper attack lines that allowed their X-factor players to make meters through one on one attack.

In the end, the All Blacks XV pulled away for a 38-6 win with a number of players showing Ian Foster and co they are ready for a crack at the World Cup should injuries sideline any current All Blacks squad members.

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Here’s how the All Blacks XV rated:

1. Xavier Numia – 6

Ill discipline cost his side early and rewarded Japan with their first scoring opportunity of the match. Numia’s athleticism didn’t get a chance to shine in the match but his work in tight was physical and clean.

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2. Ricky Riccitelli – 7

Riccitelli was hungry to get involved across the park. The hooker brought intent to his work around the set piece and executed well throughout his time on the park.

3. Jermaine Ainsley – 7

Ainsley positioned himself well on defence, while the locks rushed up to make first contact on Japan’s big ball runners, Ainsley waited an extra moment and hit hard to drive Japan backwards. The former Wallaby was strong in his scrummaging, winning the battle up front.

4. Naitoa Ah Kuoi – 9

Ah Kuoi brought the intensity from the Haka. His defence stood out early as he was quick off the line and physical in wrapping up the Japanese players. Perhaps got a bit excited when he was penalised for jumping across the lineout. The lock’s composure came through in his work around the ruck, not rushing himself but taking that extra little moment to position himself well and execute a hearty clearout.

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The Chiefs forward was an absolute workhorse on the night and he proved his fitness by maintaining his impressive effort throughout the full 80 minutes.

5. Quinten Strange – 8.5

The locks had a clear assignment on defence to get off the line and hit Japan’s runners early, they weren’t seeking out a dominant hit but taking the sting out of the run for their support to lend a heavy shoulder or contest at the breakdown. Strange was more than up for that challenge.

An inaccurate cleanout allowed Japan to steal a ball when the All Blacks XV had their first real scoring opportunity of the game. Strange’s lineout nous stifled Japan’s momentum early in the second half.

6. Akira Ioane – 8

Struggled with ball in hand in the tighter channels early but made the most of his runs out wide. Ioane’s footwork and physicality was a handful for the Japan outside backs, the All Black shrugged off and stepped a number of defenders with each carry. He warmed into the game and by the end had found a nice balance of dirty work and X-factor.

7. Du’Plessis Kirifi – 7.5

Kirifi was at his opportunistic best early, stealing the ball when Japan were just five meters out. He continued to pressure the breakdown throughout and got decent reward, winning his side the ball on multiple occasions. Kirifi’s relentless defensive efforts were impressive but the flanker was generally quieter on that side of the ball than what we’ve come to expect from him in a Hurricanes uniform as he was fulfilling a different defensive role.

8. Christian Lio-Willie – 7

As they did during the Super Rugby Pacific season, Lio-Willie’s runs put his side on the front foot and the All Blacks XV capitalised early. The No 8’s agility was utilised on defence as well.

9. Brad Weber – 7

The All Blacks XV attack was thrown off by Japan’s rush defence, Weber adjusted accordingly and traded his familiar little step before the pass to a snappy delivery from the bottom of the ruck. The halfback’s defence around the scrum was a difference-maker and initiated some All Blacks XV momentum early in the second half.

10. Stephen Perofeta – 7.5

The playmaker was caught indecisive on his first touch off the lineout move, turning the ball over. He showed glimpses of great defence, clinging onto Japan’s dangerous backs around the bootlaces. Perofeta scored the first try of the game with a well-run line and pace just 10 meters out. He broke the Japanese line with an ambitious run from near his own line just moments later. The flyhalf’s clearances were well executed and he kept the scoreboard ticking over when scoring opportunities were hard to come by.

11. Etene Nanai-Seturo – 8.5

Uncharacteristically passive in his first contact in the game but was far from shy after. Nanai-Seturo has excellent habits on the pitch, bouncing instantly back to his feet and seeking a second effort every time the ball comes his way. Ankle breakers were back on the menu for the winger who was electric in his carries.

The former Sevens star finished perhaps the most unorthodox try you’ll see after a woefully executed attack play saw the ball left behind but kicked ahead and recollected amongst the chaos.

12. Jack Goodhue – 8

The former All Black was nailed in a hard tackle the second he got his hands on the ball. He looked to get his teammates involved with a variety of distributions. Just one offload off the deck was a poor decision in a game full of solid play. Goodhue’s attacking game came to life in the second half as he spied a gap and set his team away for a perfectly worked try, which Goodhue finished himself.

13. Alex Nankivell – 8

Nankivell’s industrious defence was on full display in the match, he put in the hard yards where needed for his side. The centre’s attacking game came through as the game opened up and his offloads were a constant threat.

14. Bailyn Sullivan – 7.5

Sullivan put Japan on notice early with a strong take on a contestable kick, showing his ability in the air. The ball didn’t come the winger’s way much but Sullivan was exceptional in the few times he was able to influence the game, assisting on a couple of tries. The utility back’s contributions to the set plays were uncharacteristically sloppy.

15. Ruben Love – 6.5

Love threw himself into the match with every opportunity, his lack of game time in 2023 was evident as the fullback was rusty in his execution around the ruck and struggled to find any seams in a well-organised Japan defence. Admirably, Love’s enthusiasm never faltered and he found his feet as the match wore on, finding ways to have more and more of a positive influence on the match.

Reserves:

16. Tyrone Thompson – 8
17. Ollie Norris – 8
18. Pouri Rakete-Stones – 6
19. Cameron Suafoa – 7
20. Billy Harmon – 8

Harmon made the most of his minutes on the field, his defence was up to his usual world-class standard and he delt with some scrappy ball to initiate scoring opportunities.

21. Folau Fakatava – 8

Fakatava was a triple threat from the second he stepped on the field, his passes were snappy and he produced a brilliant solo effort to finish the game as he often does.

22. Brett Cameron – 5
23. Sam Gilbert – 6

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Turlough 4 hours ago
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This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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