The All Blacks took the lead after just three minutes and from that point on, the Irish were on a hiding to nothing. Steve Hansen will just be happy to finish with a win in a fixture that could have been a lot closer than it ended up, were it not for some early opportunistic plays from the All Blacks.
Hansen rolled out his top team for the first time in the tournament and there were a number of standout performers. Who were the best All Blacks on the park?
1 Joe Moody – 8/10
Put his hand up for plenty of carries early in the game and was also exceptionally busy on defence, leading the tackle stats until his substitution. One minor hiccup at scrum time, but otherwise steady. Off in 49th minute.
2 Codie Taylor – 7
A fairly quiet night for the hooker, working more in a support role than taking the lead.
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3 Nepo Laulala – 5
Used more as a decoy than a ball runner. Sure, that requires some good fitness, but it was hardly a dynamic performance from the man who usurped Owen Franks. Scrum was fine. Off in 49th minute.
4 Brodie Retallick – 7
Gutsy effort from the man who’s still on the comeback from a bad injury, getting through almost three-quarters of the match. Carried well when required, working in tandem with captain Kieran Read. Off in 57th minute.
5 Sam Whitelock – 7.5
A busy, busy man. Got stuck into attackers, defenders and breakdowns, and was reliable in the lineouts.
6 Ardie Savea – 7.5
Punishing runner off the back of the scrum and made a few dents in the open field too. Not necessarily a dominant performance, but Steve Hansen won’t be complaining. Made one evasive run in the final ten minutes to set up George Bridge for a try.
7 Sam Cane – 7
Put in some sizeable hits on defence. Rarely hit the ball up, instead got up in support of his more willing teammates. Topped the tackle charts before he left the field. Off at halftime.
8 Kieran Read – 8.5
His best game of the season to date (and possibly of the last few years). Led from the front, making hit-up after hit-up early on to set the tone. Never backed down from a challenge, on attack or defence.
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9 Aaron Smith – 8.5
Sharp at the base of the scrum, still probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his organisation and speed. Had the confidence to dart into the sea of green and scored an excellently taken try. Was in again just minutes later, taking advantage of some confusion amongst the Irish ranks to score a cheeky try in the corner. Off in 61st minute.
10 Richie Mo’unga – 7
Bad decision to kick when the All Blacks were hot on attack in the first quarter. Did superbly to stop Johnny Sexton’s penalty from making touch. Had a bad miss on touch of his own which ceded a scrum to Ireland on halfway. Showed good pace to stop an Irish try in the dying minutes of the match. Reliable off the tee.
11 George Bridge – 7
Tidy but lacked outright pace at times. Would Rieko Ioane have made more from the same opportunities? Attracts the ball on attack and Johnny Sexton will be having nightmares for months about Bridge preventing his penalty kicks from finding touch. Made one crucial cover tackle in the final quarter and was on hand to score a try in the final ten minutes.
12 Anton Lienert-Brown – 7.5
Wasn’t able to unlock the Irish defence but still fairly tidy on attack. Made a few important tackles on defence and was the busiest defender in the All Blacks backline.
13 Jack Goodhue – 7
Quick hands unleashed Sevu Reece to help set up NZ’s second try. Safe as houses in the midfield and probably did enough to lock down his place for next week. Off in 53rd minute.
14 Sevu Reece – 7.5
Safe under the high ball and kept the Irish defence on their toes. Almost slipped through the Irish defences on a number of occasions, including when he crab-walked across the field. Off in 62nd minute.
15 Beauden Barrett – 8
Excellent clearance kick late in the first quarter that eventually gave New Zealand a scrum 35 metres out from Ireland’s line. The All Blacks scored moments after. Showed off his trademark pace 10 minutes later to dot down for an opportunistic try and chased high balls well. Looks a lot more comfortable working in tandem with Mo’unga now. Some nice long passes from the official player-of-the-match.
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16 Dane Coles – 6
On in 70th minute. Great offload off the ground for Bridge’s try.
17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 5
On in 49th minute. Scrum was bullied a bit more once the All Blacks’ replacement props joined the match.
18 Angus Ta’avao – 5
On in 49th minute. Wasn’t as stable in the scrums as the man he replaced and didn’t get as involved as he has in prior matches.
19 Scott Barrett – 6
On after halftime. Spent almost a quarter of the match on the blindside flank then shifted into the more familiar locking role after Retallick left the field. Continued where both Cane and Retallick left off.
20 Matt Todd – 6.5
On in 57th minute. Tackled furiously. Fell over the line for a try. Hit with a somewhat strange yellow card.
21 TJ Perenara – 6.5
On in 61st minute. Didn’t let the pace drop away and kept his troops well-marshalled.
22 Sonny Bill Williams – 7
On in 53rd minute. Quickly got his hands on the ball as soon as he entered the fray and looked hungry. An excellent impact sub, but the match was well sewn up before he took the field.
23 Jordie Barrett – 6
On in 62nd minute. Didn’t get too involved until the final two minutes of the game when he scored a well-taken try.
Jim Hamilton has a couple of thoughts on the quarterfinal showdown between Wales and France:
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