All Blacks 2018: We review and rate every test

2018-12-09 02:46:43

OPINION: It has been another successful year for the All Blacks with 12 wins and just two losses. But look beyond the headline stats and the truth is the world's better teams are catching up with the All Blacks - and in Ireland's case may have moved past them. Stuff takes a look at the All Blacks' test season and rates each performance.

1. All Blacks 52 France 11, Eden Park, Auckland, June 9

The All Blacks opened their season as they would finish it, with the three Barrett brothers all starting the test albeit with Jordie at No 15 as opposed to the No 14 jersey he wore against Italy. In the first half there were flashes of the promised new attacking game plan but some rust was also evident with an understrength France team providing stern resistance - indeed the visitors went into the break in front. However, the game turned in the 51st minute when French lock Paul Gabrillagues was shown a soft yellow for a high tackle on Ryan Crotty. That opened the floodgates and the All Blacks piled on 41 unanswered points with some superb attacking play. However the main talking point after the game was the lack of action after Sam Cane and Ofa Tuungafasi collected Remy Grosso high and fractured the wing's face, increasing France's sense of injustice. Highlight: Karl Tu'uinukuafe makes test debut and destroys French scrum with first involvement. Lowlight: The Cane/Tuungafasi tackle  Rating: 6/10

2. All Blacks 26 France 13, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Jun 16

In the continued absence of Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read the All Blacks named an unchanged team - a real rarity in the modern age. However, the continuity of selection did pay off, with the All Blacks labouring to a strangely subdued win in possibly their worst performance of the season. The key moment was undoubtedly the 12th red card to French fullback Benjamin Fall for an accidental collision with Beauden Barrett that resulted in the No 10 falling horribly to the earth and suffering a concussion. The incident seemed to affect the All Blacks more than the French, who actually finished the game stronger and were rewarded with a try in the last minute. In hindsight the test may have been a pointer to some of the issues that lay ahead, with Damian McKenzie struggling to assert control at No 10 and Jordie Barrett working through some form issues at fullback. Highlight: Joe Moody's superb running line and good pace for his 18th minute try. Lowlight: Barrett's frightening fall. Thankfully he avoided a more serious structural injury. Rating: 4/10

3. All Blacks 49 France 14, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, June 23

The All Blacks wrapped up the series with a positive performance, albeit against a visibly weary French side, with Scott Barrett confirming he was probably the All Blacks' best player in June. The Crusaders lock was everywhere, smashing the French in defence and carrying well. The new midfield combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Jack Goodhue also looked promising after being tested defensively by excellent Frenchman Wesley Fofana while Rieko Ioane was given enough room to show his incredible pace. Damian McKenzie also looked dangerous in the No 10 jersey, although the quality of opposition made it difficult to make any true judgements about the All Blacks' overall progress during the series.. Highlight: Jackson Hemopo's strong cameo at blindside. Lowlight: Sonny Bill Williams injured his shoulder tackling Wesley Fofana - a sign of things to come. Rating: 7/10

4. Australia 13 All Blacks 38, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, August 18

After another poor Super Rugby campaign even the normally bullish Australians were measured about their chances and the All Blacks ran away with the game in the second half to justify their worst fears. However, the All Blacks were somewhat unconvincing in the first half and it took a typical Ben Smith line break out of nothing just before half-time to spark them into life. Thereafter they feasted on the Wallabies' errors, with Brodie Retallick causing all sorts of problems for their lineout, and a couple of late tries blew out the scoreline. Beauden Barrett also scored a trademark try using his pace and soccer skills while Jack Goodhue confirmed his class but the story of the night was the poor quality of the Wallabies side, something that was repeated throughout the year. Highlight: Brodie Retallick's dummy on the way to a five-pointer that was later voted as World Rugby's try of the year. Lowlight: The quality of the opposition. Rating: 6/10

5. All Blacks 40 Australia 12, Eden Park, Auckland, August 25

This will be remembered as the Beauden Barrett test. The All Blacks No 10 scored an incredible four tries on the back of sheer pace, with barely a hand laid on him. It was a performance that again showed Barrett is almost unplayable when he has space to play in. The Wallabies had started the test relatively brightly but were blown away when the game opened up and the likes of replacements Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown started to find space. The inability of the Wallabies to stay in the fight will always put a question mark over the quality of the test but it was still an evening to sit back and simply enjoy Barrett at his best - sterner examinations lay around the corner. Up front Whitelock and Retallick were dominant again at the lineout and Owen Franks brought up his 100th test, albeit against a much competitive Wallabies scrum that gave him some uncomfortable moments. Highlight: Beauden Barrett's fourth try after a brilliant breakout from deep. Lowlight: The standard of the Wallabies' defence Rating: 8/10

6. All Blacks 46 Argentina 24, Trafalgar Park, Nelson, September 8

A perfect night in Nelson set the stage for running rugby but for most of the match the visitors gave as good as they got. Elusive left wing Ramiro Moyano scored a brilliant try in the 15th minute and with 10 minutes to go Argentina were still in it before the All Blacks finished strongly. But despite some defensive issues the All Blacks' attack functioned well, with new starting No 6 Shannon Frizell making a big impression and Ardie Savea giving early notice of his influential year with a strong shift at No 7. Richie Mo'unga started at No 10 and made some errors but his long, flat passing ability gave the ABs' attack some nice width. Again, the scrum and bench was dominant, with Karl Tu'uinukuafe walking all over the Pumas set-piece and replacements Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Damian McKenzie bringing plenty of zip in the final quarter. The Chiefs pair combined brilliantly to set up Jack Goodhue's late try to give the final score a slightly flattering appearance. Highlight: Shannon Frizell's strong running and decision making in midfield. Lowlight: The ABs' missed tackle count Rating: 6/10

7. All Blacks 34 South Africa 36, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, September 15

In many ways the defining test of the year, even more so than the later clash against Ireland. Despite a flat loss to the Wallabies the week before, it was clear the Springboks had arrived in New Zealand with a huge sense of purpose - and belief. The All Blacks started brightly but Jordie Barrett's risky quick lineout gifted a try to Willie le Roux and from that moment the All Blacks found themselves in a proper test match. Defensively, they had issues against the lineout drive and out wide, and in attack Aaron Smith was hassled by Faf de Klerk and the ball carriers were challenged by the Springboks complete commitment on the advantage line. The All Blacks did not cope with the pressure. Even though replacements such as Ardie Savea gave them renewed momentum late on, Beauden Barrett's goalkicking fell away under pressure and the failure to take what looked like a regulation drop goal chance at the death left the nation scratching its head. Highlight: Watching the ABs get genuinely tested. Lowlight: Watching the ABs ultimately fail that test. Rating: 5/10

8. Argentina 17 All Blacks 35, Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires, September 30

With a rare public rebuke from coach Steve Hansen ringing in their ears after the Springboks loss, the All Blacks brought renewed defensive venom to their work against a Pumas side that was coming off a win against the Wallabies in Australia. The All Blacks' contact work was impressive, especially so as regular loose forwards Kieran Read and Liam Squire were unavailable due to injury. Again, Ardie Savea stepped up, this time in the No 8 jersey, where his lineout work was sharp and he made some nice bursts from the back of the scrum. Argentina enjoyed a sustained period of pressure in the second half but they were second best for most of the night. In the absence of Damian McKenzie, who was on bereavement leave, Richie Mo'unga also made a head-turning cameo. Despite only being on the paddock for 22 minutes he finished as the ABs' fourth best ball carrier as well as setting up a try for Anton Lienert-Brown with a deft grubber kick. Highlight: The collective defensive effort after Wayne Smith had expressed his support for Scott McLeod. Lowlight: A yellow card to Sonny Bill Williams for repeated team infringements. Rating: 7/10

9. South Africa 30 All Blacks 32, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria, October 7

The great escape, multiplied by a factor of 10. For an hour the All Blacks were second best, pegged back by the Springboks' clever tactical kicking game and put on the back foot by the hosts' big ball carriers. However, a series of replacements changed the game. First, the All Blacks introduced Richie Mo'unga after 50 minutes and, second, the Springboks took off the dominant Malcolm Marx and Faf de Klerk after 72 minutes, no doubt thinking the result was beyond doubt. They were wrong. First, Scott Barrett drove over from close range with five minutes to go. Then, Ardie Savea won a crucial turnover penalty and Mo'unga carved off close to 60 metres to set up an attacking lineout. Showing great patience the ABs forward then went to work before Savea crashed over. Mo'unga's conversion closed out the game and left the Springboks stunned, but no doubt with a sense they have the players to beat the ABs trouble next year.  Highlight: Richie Mo'unga's touchfinder that set up the winning try. Lowlight: Tim Perry's missed tackle on Siya Kolisi that led to Damian de Allende's five-pointer. Rating: 7/10

10. All Blacks 37 Wallabies 20, Nissan Stadium, Yokohama, October 27

As preparation for next year's World Cup in Japan this test was invaluable, but as a measure of the All Blacks' progress it was harder to read. Still, it was a significant test in the sense of Damian McKenzie's selection at fullback, marking the start of the All Blacks' 'dual playmaker' attack. The Chiefs No 10 had a solid outing but the game will be best remembered for Beauden Barrett's outstanding set-piece try that exploited the Wallabies' weakness on the blindside. The All Blacks' scrum also asserted itself again, although this would prove to be the luckless Joe Moody's last test of a year blighted by injury. The All Blacks were in control from start to finish, although the Wallabies again found some holes in the All Blacks' frontline defence and they were indebted at times to the Wallabies' inability to make more of their line breaks. Highlight: Beauden Barrett's try or his between-the-legs pass to set up Rieko Ioane - take your pick. Lowlight: Wallabies replacement Samu Kerevi bumping off defenders with ease. Rating: 7/10

11. Japan 31 All Blacks 69, Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, November 3

A second-string ABs side featuring eight debutants was on a hiding to nothing: win handsomely and people would question the opposition; fail to do so and the critics would mark their cards. In the end they fell somewhere in between, scoring some excellent tries but conceding 31 points. Richie Mo'unga started the test and controlled the game nicely but the big mover was probably Crusaders wing George Bridge, who came off the bench at halftime and scored two tries while setting up another. Ngani Laumape and Jackson Hemopo were also strong and Dane Coles made an encouraging return after his long injury layoff. The positives were offset somewhat by another costly Jordie Barrett error that led to a Japan, one of five scored by the Jamie Joseph-coached side. Highlight: Ngani Laumape's subtle kicking game, which created two tries. Lowlight: Jordie Barrett form struggles, although class is permanent.   Rating: 6/10

12. England 15 All Blacks 16, Twickenham Stadium, London, November 11

The All Blacks sent an advance party to London after the third Bledisloe test  - at some expense -  but the benefits of the plan weren't particularly apparent as they enjoyed another great escape. The offside call against Courtney Lawes as he charged down a TJ Perenara kick was correct but the All Blacks' celebrations at the final whistle showed they knew they had come close to losing. England started with a hiss and a roar, racing to a 15-0 lead before the ABs started to put together some good play in awful conditions, although the tactical kicking game again left a lot to be desired. Indeed, Owen Farrell grabbed control of the game with 20 minutes to go and it was only some superb defensive lineout work from Brodie Retallick that helped the ABs squeak home. Kieran Read, later to come under fire, was also excellent. Undoubtedly they were tired after a long year but England were without some of their heaviest weapons. Twickenham is a daunting place to play but the win compared unfavourably to Ireland's dominant victory at the same venue in the Six Nations. Highlight: Brodie Retallick's brilliant all-round display. Lowlight: Sonny Bill Williams succumbing to a shoulder injury to round off a tough year. Rating: 6/10

13. Ireland 16 All Blacks 9, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, November 18

The most intense test of the year, between the world's two best sides. Yet despite knowing exactly what was coming from the Irish in terms of their game plan, the ABs couldn't stop it. The home side's accuracy and power at the breakdown, in defence and attack, meant the ABs struggled to get their game going while Joe Moody's absence was finally felt, with Tadhg Furlong teaching Karl Tu'uinukuafe some new tricks at scrum time. The ABs had hoped to benefit from the absence of Conor Murray and Sean O'Brien but instead the test went to script, with Ireland imposing their possession and territory tactics, particularly in the first half as the ABs struggled with their discipline. The ABs stirred in the second half as Ireland stopped playing a bit too early but without a standout performance from anyone in black they could never quite get control of the test. It was by no means a poor ABs performance - certainly no worse than Twickenham - but where Ireland found an inspired moment via wing Jacob Stockdale, the ABs found their heads, and hands, let them down at crucial moments. Highlight: Scott Barrett again showing his versatility with a big shift at blindside after Liam Squire's injury. Lowlight: Kieran Read's knock-on after charging down a kick with Jack Goodhue almost certain to score. Rating 6/10

14. Italy 3 All Blacks 66, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, November 25

Rugby's equivalent of the Rorschach test - study this test enough and see what you want to see. Certainly, Italy's lack of resistance made it hard to say definitively that the All Blacks were back on track but at the end of a long year scoring 66 points, in a test, on foreign soil, is a decent achievement. The All Blacks' attacking kicks were certainly improved, whether it was a Beauden Barrett crossfield kick to brother Jordie, Ngani Laumape's grubber for Damian McKenzie or even Nathan Harris' eye-catching effort for the youngest Barrett brother. There were also pleasing individual efforts from Patrick Tuipulotu and Vaea Fifita, particularly the latter who let the Italians know they were in for a tough afternoon with some big tackles in the first half. The Italians' inability to cross the All Blacks' line was a strong response to the loss against Ireland, particularly as the Italians finally won some territory in the second half and had the chance to launch off their lineouts. The comfortable scoreline also allowed Beauden Barrett to replaced after 50 minutes, giving the Richie Mo'unga-McKenzie partnership some valuable game time with an eye on 2019.  Highlight: Jordie Barrett's four-try haul in the No 14 jersey. Lowlight: The nagging suspicion that Italy were beaten before kick-off. Rating: 7/10

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