Halves lacking influence in a year of stagnation

After a disastrous start to the season, dropping three of their first four games, the All Blacks fought their way to third spot on the World Rugby rankings off the back of six wins and a draw at the tail-end of their campaign.

Gauging where the team is now compared to the start of the season is a difficult task, however, given the disparate strengths of the opposition faced either side of the season.

Ireland and South Africa – who collectively inflicted three defeats on New Zealand – will be contenders at next year’s Rugby World Cup. The likes of Australia, Scotland and Wales, however, will rightly be rank outsiders.

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Regardless of the team’s overall standing, there were certainly a number of players who advanced their cases for selection throughout the season – and a number of men who may well have played their final Tests.

This week, RugbyPass will be rating the performances of the All Blacks throughout the season. Today we look at how the halves faired in 2022.

Halfbacks

Finlay Christie – 5/10
Played: 9 (2 starts)
Best performance: Argentina II

2022 was supposed to be the year that Christie announced himself as the second-best halfback in New Zealand, with both Brad Weber and TJ Perenara dropped from the All Blacks at the beginning of the season. After a big campaign with the Blues, however, Christie was never able to transfer that hot form to the international arena, and his starts against Japan and Scotland coincided with some of the All Blacks’ most disappointing showings of the season. While Christie’s performances off the bench were more prosperous, he was never able to put any real pressure on Aaron Smith – and that probably influenced the generally middling performances from the NZ halfbacks throughout the year.

Folau Fakatava – 5
Played: 2 (0 starts)
Best performance: Ireland II

After making two scrappy appearances off the bench in July, Fakatava wasn’t sighted for the remainder of the season. As with many of the other inexperienced squad members, the All Blacks’ poor run of form in the early stages of the season prevented much chopping and changing to the line-up and a reinjured ACL ahead of the end-of-year tour ensured Fakatava’s debut campaign would go down as a massive disappointment.

Aaron Smith – 6
Played: 12 (11 starts)
Best Performance: Wales

Smith delivered two standout showings in black this year against Australia in Auckland and Wales in Cardiff. In those two matches, his wider skillset was on display with the 34-year-old’s running game causing as many problems for the opposition as his bullet pass. Throughout the rest of the year, however, Smith was simply serviceable. His pass was generally crisp – but still suffered when the All Blacks were on the backfoot (which was n’t an uncommon occurrence) and he rarely if ever challenged the close-range breakdown defenders with darts of his own. Every All Black needs to have rivals nipping at their heels if they’re to play at their best and Smith simply didn’t have that in 2022.

Brad Weber – N/A
Played: 1 (0 starts)
Best Performance: Wales

A handful of minutes off the bench against Wales following Fakatava’s injury wasn’t enough to warrant an overall rating for Weber. The Chiefs co-captain might just be the next best thing behind Smith, in terms of a like-for-like replacement, but he’ll need to be at his best during Super Rugby next season if he wants to travel to France.

TJ Perenara – 6
Played: 2 (0 starts)
Best Performance: Scotland

It’s not an overstatement to say that Perenara possibly changed history with his impact against Scotland, helping to prevent what would have been a first-ever loss for the All Blacks against their northern opposition. The 30-year-old was at his best in that fixture and emphasized the different attributes he brings to the halfback role. He couldn’t make quite the same impact against England (and while that last kick might have been the right tactic, it was so terribly executed) and the situation remains that for all the positives Perenara does bring to the field, some of his core halfback skills don’t measure up to that of his rivals.

First fives

Beauden Barrett – 5
Played: 11 (8 starts)
Best Performance: Ireland I

It was an up, down and all-around year for Beauden Barrett, who began the season as the All Blacks’ first-choice pivot, found himself warming the bench as the year wore on and then finished up as the team’s number-one fullback . It’s safe to say that Barrett never really stood out in any of his roles in 2022 – and he’s really not recaptured the sort of form that made him a twice World Rugby Player of the Year since spending a season in Japan following the 2019 World Cup. While his kicking game has always been circumspect (bar cross-kicks, where he’s possibly the best exponent in the world), his running game appears to have mostly deserted him, limiting his ability to really make an impact from fullback or first five-eighth . Perhaps a full season at the back for the Blues would reinvigorate his international career, instead of swapping between the No 10 and No 15 jerseys.

Richie Mo’unga – 7
Played: 12 (8 starts)
Best Performance: South Africa II

Bringing in a new attack coach in the form of Joe Schmidt did Mo’unga a world of good in 2022, with the pivot looking markedly more comfortable as the primary general in the All Blacks backline. A transformative showing off the boot against the Springboks at Ellis Park helped pull NZ out of their slump (at least temporarily) but his kicking game never again reached those dizzying heights throughout the year, with his tactical work against Japan a season lowlight. Still, Mo’unga appears to have mostly found his feet by him as a Test point guard even if there is considerable room for growth.

Stephen Perofeta – N/A
Played: 3 (1 start)
Best performance: Japan

It’s hard to know where to start with Perofeta. 80 minutes against Japan was his only real action of the season, with one-minute cameos against Argentina and Scotland barely worth mentioning. In those 80 minutes in Tokyo, Perofeta did little to convince he was ready for the big leagues – although it’s not like any other All Blacks on show considerably improved their standing either. At this stage, it’s difficult to see Perofeta traveling to next year’s World Cup, simply because the selectors don’t seem to have any faith in the 2022 debutant.

Full ratings (to date)

Hookers:
Dane Coles – 4/10
Samisoni Taukei’aho – 8
Codie Taylor – 5
Asafo Aumua – N/A

Props:
Aidan Ross – N/A
George Bower – 6
Nepo Laulala – 4
Angus Taavao – 4
Ofa Tu’ungafasi – 5
Karl Tu’inukuafe – N/A
Tyrel Lomax – 7
Ethan de Groot – 6
Fletcher Newell – 5

Locks:
Scott Barrett – 7
Josh Lord – N/A
Brodie Retallick – 7
Tupou Vaa’i – 5
Sam Whitelock – 7
Josh Dickson – N/A
Patrick Tuipulotu – N/A

Loose forwards:
Sam Cane – 6
Akira Ioane – 6
Dalton Papali’i – 7
Ardie Savea – 8
Hoskins Sotutu – 6
Pita Gus Sowakula – N/A
Shannon Frizell – 6
Billy Harmon – N/A

Halfbacks:
Finlay Christie – 5
Folau Fakatava – 5
Aaron Smith – 6
Brad Weber – N/A
TJ Perenara – 6

First fives:
Beauden Barrett – 5
Richie Mo’unga – 7
Stephen Perofeta – N/A

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