The North have lost an all-time classic at Wellington’s Sky Stadium, pipped by the South well after the siren had sounded, which saw them win 35-38.

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Going into the match, there were plenty of questions that still had to be answered around the future combinations and selections for the All Blacks.

Both sides played an exciting brand of rugby, crossing for two tries in the first half but a penalty saw the South lead 14-17 at the break. After Aaron Smith scored just seven minutes into the second half, the South responded through Will Jordan and Tyrel Lomax to blow their lead out to 10 with 20 to play.

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McKenzie and Barrett talk tactics ahead of North vs South clash

A late fight back saw the North regain the lead, and they looked as if they’d secured the victory when Ardie Savea secured a penalty at the breakdown in the dying stages. But the South never gave up.

Even though they lost, it was a quality performance from the North side. Here’s how RugbyPass rated the North. 

1. Karl Tu’inukuafe – 6.5/10

The North were out scrummed for most of the first half, but managed to save it late before the break, and in the 10 minutes that followed before both starting props went off. ‘Big Karl’ did his job.

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2. Asafo Aumua – 7.5/10

Aumua has shown plenty of promise since bursting onto the provincial scene a few years ago, but if his performance on Saturday night is anything to go off, then it might just be time for Aumua to take that next step. The 23-year-old showed plenty of promise at the set-piece with a very good showing considering the conditions. He also showcased his dangerous running ability more than once, especially down the left edge.

3. Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 7/10

Just like Tu’unukuafe, he got better as the game went on. Tu’ungafasi also ran strongly with the ball a few times. Came back on later in the second when Johnstone went off for a HIA, and looked hungry to get involved. 

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4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c) – 7/10

As an established All Black, there was plenty of expectation on Tuipulotu going into this match with the national side set to have plenty of youth or untested players named in the position. It was also a great opportunity for the North captain to take that next step in his career, as he looked to back up his exception form from Super Rugby Aotearoa. He was relatively quiet in the first half, but was more lively in the second, mainly in defence.

 5. Tupou Vaa’i – 7/10

The 20-year-old made his mark in defence, leaving the field with the most tackles of any player at the time when he was subbed off in the 50th minute.

 6. Akira Ioane – 7/10

Would’ve impressed the All Blacks selectors, performing strongly until the final whistle in a promising 85-minute performance. Finished with the most metres run of any forward, and eight tackles as well.

 7. Ardie Savea – 7.5/10

Back in his familiar role as an openside flanker, Savea was busy from the get-go. Had the most tackles of any player with 13, and also ran for an impressive 42 metres. Savea secured what so nearly was a pivotal turnover at the breakdown with two and a half minutes to play, only for the South to come back fighting.

 8. Hoskins Sotutu – 8.5/10

What a performance from the 22-year-old! His work rate was elite and it definitely wouldn’t have hurt his chances of earning a starting All Blacks jersey sooner rather than later. Sotutu looked threatening with the ball in hand, case in point being the lead up play for Aaron Smith’s try. The number eight was wide on the right edge and drew in all three South defenders before getting a one-handed offload off to McKenzie, who played supplier for Smith.

 9. TJ Perenara – 6.5/10

Finished the match with one try assist, running in support of Reiko Ioane before handing the ball off to Damien McKenzie who ran in untouched. Perenara put in a solid shift, but didn’t get the chance to have too much of an impact; subbed off at half-time.

 10. Beauden Barrett – 8/10

Isn’t it great seeing Beauden Barrett back in a black 10 jersey? Brought his experience, skill and poise to the contest, and let it do the talking from early on. Barrett set up Reiko Ioane for the opener in the third minute, with a grubber kick behind the South defensive line.

 11. Caleb Clarke – 8/10

Wow. Just wow. Clarke was incredible for the Blues throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa, and it was always going to be a talking point seeing how and if he could step up in this unofficial All Blacks trial. Started the game with an impressive 40 metre break through the heart of the Souths defence, which set the tone for his night. The winger finished with the most metres run of any player, bettering the second best of 76 by 40 metres.

 12. Anton Lienert-Brown – 7/10

A quiet game from Lienert-Brown, but he did his job nonetheless. One of the highlights of the match was his one-handed offload inside the last 10 minutes that sent Akira Ioane on a 30-metre spurt.

 13. Reiko Ioane – 8/10

In 2017, Ioane admitted that playing centre for the All Blacks was probably his “long-term goal.” Well that goal won’t be too far off after tonight – he simply thrived in the position, and embraced both the pressure and the opportunity that came with getting more involved. A favourable bounce early on saw him cross over for his first, before adding to his tally late with a hard and direct line at the South defence. Also showed quick hands to create the break that eventually led to McKenzie’s try.

 14. Sevu Reece – 7.5/10

With limited opportunities, Reece always looked dangerous when he got his hands on the ball. Finished the night with 76 run metres, and came close to scoring a try just before half-time but was dragged down just short.

 15. Damian McKenzie – 8.5/10

Arguably the North’s best player. Perfect off the tee, and was once again dangerous with the ball in hand – even when he was running laterally as he often does. Crossed over for a try by running in support of TJ Perenara, after quick hands created the break. McKenzie also had a try assist to his name, again running in support of a rampaging Sotutu, before playing provider for Aaron Smith. Once Beauden Barrett went off with 20 minutes to go, the fullback stood up as a playmaker too – that can’t have hurt his chances as he continues to battle with a number of players for the All Blacks 15 jersey.

 Reserves

16. Ash Dixon – 6.5/10

17. Ayden Johnstone – 5.5/10

18. Angus Ta’avao – 6/10

19. Scott Scrafton – 6/10

20. Dalton Papalii – 6/10

21. Aaron Smith – 8/10

Not to discredit the work or ability of TJ Perenara, but Smith is clearly the best scrumhalf in New Zealand at the moment, if not the world. His pace, energy and accuracy took the North to another level, and they were simply a better side with him out on the park. Also scored a try seven minutes after coming on. He only played a half but still, he had to be in the conversation for man-of-the-match.

22. Peter Umaga-Jensen – 6/10

23. Mitchell Hunt – 6/10

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