New Zealand’s rugby elite had one last chance to impress All Blacks coach Steve Hansen before they take on the British & Irish Lions in the first of three Tests at Eden Park on June 24.
The Highlanders had Waisake Naholo and Lima Sopoaga on hand as they managed a stunning victory over the Lions on Tuesday.
That was followed by the All Blacks first Test of the year as they dusted the cobwebs away with a superb 78-0 thrashing of Samoa on Friday.
Then the Lions sent a message to Hansen and co. as All Blacks squad members Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Rieko Ioane failed to fire as the New Zealand Maori lost to Warren Gatland’s side in Rotorua.
The All Blacks still have injury concerns with captain Kieran Read, Aaron Cruden, Dane Coles, Liam Squire and Ryan Crotty all sidelined while Ngani Laumape, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Luke Romano weren’t sited.
Let’s rate how the All Blacks performed over the course of the week before the highly anticipated clash against the Lions next week.
Jordie Barrett (All Blacks) 6/10
Didn’t look flustered on his international debut from the bench. Took one towering box kick before off-loading one-handed to Brodie Retallick.
Israel Dagg (All Blacks) 7/10
Plenty of ball came his way. Finished off a brilliant break and set up Vaea Fafita with a nice offload. Flip of a coin between him and Naholo for the 14 jersey.
Rieko Ioane (NZ Maori) 5/10
Hardly sighted as the Lions bullied the Maori All Blacks. Dropped an early box kick which set the tone for the evening.
Waisake Naholo (Highlanders) 9/10
Couldn’t have done more to impress All Blacks selectors. Devastating with ball in hand as he stormed his way to the try-line to help the Highlanders to a famous win.
Julian Savea (All Blacks) 8/10
Encouraging performance after a quiet Super campaign. Scored the easiest of tries, and looked keen to come of his wing and get involved.
Ben Smith (All Blacks) 9/10
A true captain’s knock. So composed and fleet-footed, turning defence into attack in an instant as the All Blacks ran 95 metres to score on of their 12 tries.
Anton Lienert-Brown (All Blacks) 9/10
One of the best on the field at Eden Park. Hardly put a foot wrong with a series of deft touches leading to tries. Looked comfortable playing with SBW for the first time.
Sonny Bill Williams (All Blacks) 7/10
Mixed bag. Ran a strong line for a try while his offload game was strong. Bit of work to be done on defence after his cousin Tim Nanai-Williams stepped past with relative ease.
Beauden Barrett (All Blacks) 8/10
First 20 was very shaky before he remembered he is Beauden Barrett. Heavily involved with two tries and a couple of assists while his goal-kicking would have been most pleasing.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow (NZ Maori) 5/10
A performance he’ll want to forget in a hurry. Gave away a silly penalty before an inexcusable no-arms tackle that could’ve been worthy of a red card. Will need a slice of luck to face the Lions again.
TJ Perenara (All Blacks) 7/10
Huge impact from the bench albeit against a weak opponent. Ran a brilliant support line to score a try and keep hot on the heals of Aaron Smith.
Aaron Smith (All Blacks) 6/10
Solid without being spectacular. Pass looked crisp that allowed the All Blacks to attack, but looked to be forcing it a bit as evident in a horror ball from the ruck that butchered a try.
Lima Sopoaga (Highlanders / All Blacks) 6/10
Looked rattled in Dunedin, with a wobbly cross field kick leading to a Lions try before a poor pass put the Highlanders on the back foot. Sound cameo on Friday with Aaron Cruden sidelined.
Scott Barrett (All Blacks) 7/10
Did enough on injury return to suggest he’s ready to ride the pine against the Lions. Had one big run and a line-out steal in his effort from the bench.
Sam Cane (All Blacks) 8/10
Was very solid in defence and around the ruck when the All Blacks looked rusty early doors. Finished up with 15 tackles and a try for his 80 minute performance.
Jerome Kaino (All Blacks) 7/10
Didn’t look like he’d missed much rugby in his first game back from knee surgery. Threw his body around in the tight, making 14 tackles before making way midway through the second half.
Ardie Savea (All Blacks) 8/10
Not a natural No. 8 by Steve Hansen’s reckoning but more than held his own with solid support play. One big tackle when Samoa were hot on attack.
Vaea Fifita (All Blacks) 6/10
Rocked up in the right place at the right time to score a try on debut. A player to watch for the future.
Brodie Retallick (All Blacks) 8/10
Another typically huge performance. Ended up with more running metres than Julian Savea such was his involvement, while giving him the captaincy for the final stages shows his value to the side.
Sam Whitelock (All Blacks) 6/10
Didn’t get many chances to stretch the legs in the wider channels, but was a solid operator at line-out time.
Wyatt Crocket (All Blacks) 6/10
Extended his world record for most consecutive Test wins to 48 matches with a comfortable trot around in the second half.
Charlie Faumuina (All Blacks) 6/10
Didn’t have much to do once he came on for Owen Franks as the All Blacks back-line carved Samoa to shreds.
Owen Franks (All Blacks) 6/10
No scrum penalties was encouraging in what’s sure to be a talking point next Saturday against the Lions pack.
Nathan Harris (All Blacks) 6/10
Maintained the standard set by the All Blacks starting front row. Like Taylor there were no throwing issues at the line-out.
Codie Taylor (All Blacks) 7/10
Didn’t miss from the line-out and showed signs of a running game similar to that of Dane Coles with a try off some quick thinking from Ben Smith.
Joe Moody (All Blacks) 6/10
As was the case with Franks, the All Blacks scrum was solid. Will be relishing another crack at the Lions pack after what happened in the Crusaders game.