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Ranking the five best performances from the All Blacks in 2023

By Ben Smith
Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett and Ardie Savea of the All Blacks perform the haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between France and New Zealand at Stade de France on September 08, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The All Blacks came up short by one point in the Rugby World Cup final in 2023 but there were many other memorable games during the year.

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They were on a roll after winning the Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup and Freedom Cups to start the season but hit their first bit of turbulence at Twickenham in a warm-up Test against the Springboks.

A first-ever pool stage loss at the Rugby World Cup followed when they were beaten by France on opening night but they were able to recover to make a run towards the big prize, the William Webb Ellis trophy.

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The 12-11 loss to the Springboks in the final is not on the list as one of the best performances of the year, despite being a gutsy one showing plenty of resilience and character.

They still should’ve won but didn’t, with many key areas lacking despite completely dominating the Springboks at the lineout and throughout the entire second half.

Here are the five best performances from the All Blacks in 2023.

5. All Blacks 41-12 Argentina at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza

There was an air of uncertainty around the All Blacks heading into their first Test of the year, and first Test in Argentina since 2019.

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They had lost to Los Pumas in 2022 at home and there were expectations that Argentina could produce something similar buoyed by their home crowd.

Instead the All Blacks went on an early rampage and completely silenced the crowd at the football stadium in Mendoza. At 31-7 at half-time the game was essentially over.

Damian McKenzie impressed in his first start at No 10 for the All Blacks in years, debutant Emoni Narawa managed to score with a great finish and Jordie Barrett was phenomenal at 12 to cement himself as the first-choice midfield.

It was a clinical performance that put the world on notice that the All Blacks would be contenders in 2023 in France.

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4. All Blacks 35-20 Springboks at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland

They followed up the win in Mendoza with a comfortable win over the Springboks at Mt Smart which featured an opening 20-minute blitz that will be remembered for Shannon Frizell’s bulldozing try over Willie le Roux in the corner.

The All Blacks blew the doors off a tired Springbok side that had flown out early to New Zealand to prepare for the Test. Ultimately, many of the South African players hadn’t played a game in months since finishing their club seasons in Japan and they were severely underdone.

The Springboks fought back in the second half after unloading a world-class bench but guided by Richie Mo’unga’s management the All Blacks weathered the storm and pulled away again with late tries to Will Jordan and Mo’unga skinning the Boks to seal the deal.

Points Flow Chart

New Zealand win +15
Time in lead
77
Mins in lead
0
96%
% Of Game In Lead
0%
60%
Possession Last 10 min
40%
5
Points Last 10 min
5

This performance would rank higher on the list but for the Springboks playing mind games. They clearly didn’t start with their best side and didn’t compete at one lineout for the entire game. It was a shadow-boxing affair of sorts.

The All Blacks first 20 minutes was incredible but there were large stages of the game where they lost ascendency and therefore this ranks fourth on the best performances of 2023.

3. All Blacks 38-7 Wallabies at the MCG, Melbourne

The first Bledisloe Test of 2023 was a highly anticipated clash with new Wallabies head coach Eddie Jones stirring the pot with New Zealanders for months before the Test.

Days before the Test he claimed that New Zealand’s economy would sink when the All Blacks lose in a memorable press conference. 80,000 packed into the MCG for the spectacle and they were treated to a dominant All Blacks win built on sublime defence.

The Wallabies started strong in the opening 30 minutes with some decent attacking play with young Carter Gordon in his first start at flyhalf. They made plenty of breaks but didn’t capitalise on enough of them.

A try to Rob Valetini gave the Wallabies the lead, but they folded in the final 10 minutes of the first half to go behind 19-7.

Points Flow Chart

New Zealand win +31
Time in lead
26
Mins in lead
52
32%
% Of Game In Lead
64%
45%
Possession Last 10 min
55%
0
Points Last 10 min
0

In the second half the All Blacks did what they do best as the Wallabies ran out of puff. Losing tighthead prop Taniela Tupou didn’t help as Eddie Jones’ power game couldn’t break the All Blacks’ goal line defence.

One of their best All Blacks tries of the year came to Rieko Ioane from a Mark Telea offload after a long passage of play that began back inside their own half.

Telea again was phenomenal, finishing with five line breaks, nine defenders beaten, one try and one try assist.

2. All Blacks 44-6 Argentina in the Rugby World Cup semi-final, Stade de France Paris

This clash was criticised for being a lopsided affair but ignores the fact that it was a Rugby World Cup semi-final. From the All Blacks perspective, it was a as good as it can get in such a high stakes game. Every side in the world would take this low-stress result in a semi-final every day of the week.

Will Jordan scored a hat-trick, including a stunning long-range effort with his trademark chip and chase. He would’ve set the record for most tries at a Rugby World Cup with nine had Richie Mo’unga made the final pass during a passage of play late in the game. Instead, he dummied and got tackled leaving Jordan on eight.

The All Blacks booked their place in the Rugby World Cup final pretty much by half-time and were able to voluntarily finish the game down a man, opting not to put Scott Barrett back into the contest after his yellow card.

1. All Blacks 28-24 Ireland in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final, Stade de France Paris

Undoubtably the best All Blacks performance of the year was knocking off the world’s best team in one of the greatest games of rugby ever.

The intensity of this quarter-final was epic and ultimately decided by the finest margins.

The All Blacks produced an out-of-this-world performance, and they had to. They kept the lead for 77 minutes after racing out to early 13-0 lead following two penalties to Richie Mo’unga and a try to Leicester Fainga’anuku.

Ireland climbed back into the contest with a Bundee Aki try closing the gap to 13-10, before Ardie Savea stretched the lead again into half-time.

A piece of Richie Mo’unga magic to set-up Will Jordan for a big strike added another buffer heading into the final twenty but Ireland kept coming, always closing the gap to within one score.

Momentum

0'
HT
FT
Ireland
New Zealand

Jordie Barrett produced a miraculous tackle to hold up the reserve hooker over the line that essentially saved the game for New Zealand. Had that rolling maul been successful it is likely that Ireland would have won.

In the end it was 36 phases of defence and a wily play by Sam Whitelock that sealed the win as Ireland were left heartbroken once again.

The rivalry has grown into one of the best in the game since Ireland’s first ever win in 2016 in Chicago and this clash took it to a new level.

Not only was it the best performance from the All Blacks in 2023 it was perhaps their greatest ever knockout win at a Rugby World Cup.

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