Marc Hinton: Beauden Barrett shines, but Ardie Savea the All Blacks’ best on show

Beauden Barrett runs in an intercept try just minutes into his 100th test for the All Blacks against Wales in Cardiff.

Matt Impey/Photosport

Beauden Barrett runs in an intercept try just minutes into his 100th test for the All Blacks against Wales in Cardiff.

OPINION: It was Beauden Barrett’s big night for the All Blacks but Ardie Savea who produced the signature performance to apply the stamp of class to another victory over Wales at the Principality Stadium.

In the end Ian Foster’s All Blacks found some rhythm and flow in their game over a surging second half to run away from the Welsh for a 54-16, seven tries to one, victory. It wasn’t quite the dominant display that many had predicted, with the under-strength home side hanging tough for the first half, but in the end showcased the gulf in class between the two lineups that many had been predicting in the lead-in.

Barrett, as he does, studded the big occasion with a couple of intercept tries to bookend a pretty decent night’s work. He ran for a team-high 99 metres on six runs, opened the scoring with a snaffle and dash off a loose Gareth Anscombe pass, and finished it in similar style when he plucked Johnny McNicholl’s offload out of the air and raced 50 metres for the final flourish.

Barrett, named man of the match, was not quite at his scintillating best in his 100th test for the All Blacks, but his class was evident in the second spell when the game opened up a little. His kicking game had the odd misfire through the first spell, but when ball shifts through the hands there are none better in the game at creating opportunity out of the chaos.

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If Barrett was quality on his special night, Savea was simply sublime, the dynamic loose forward revelling in his shift back to the No 8 position to produce what must be close to his best performance of the season.

The leg-pumping loosie cropped up all over the park and was at the heart of so much the All Blacks did well as they ran in five tries over a surging second half. He finished with 42 metres on 7 runs, with a pair of defenders beaten, and nailed eight of his nine tackles.

There was plenty to enthuse over in the end from the All Blacks’ side of things. Will Jordan showed his class with a brilliant individual try to make it 16 5-pointers in his 11 tests, Rieko Ioane had another standout match, both on the wing and then at centre late in the piece, Jordie Barrett did the job well at the back and Dalton Papalii was outstanding at No 7 as he led a strong defensive display and was his excellent self over the ball.

Sevu Reece made an excellent impact off the bench, as did big Tupou Vaa’i, and in the final accounting Foster’s men achieved what we all expected – a dominant victory over a severely depleted Welsh side that was always going to run a distant second.

To be fair, all this talk through the week, and before, that the Welsh were going to be roadkill in red jerseys did not eventuate in the manner expected come game-time.

Wayne Pivac’s home outfit gave a pretty decent account of themselves, a misfiring lineout apart, and were well in the contest through the first 40 minutes as they conceded the only two tries of the spell, but more than held their own in the ebb and flow of the contest to trail 18-6 at the break.

The home hopes were not helped by the early departure of talismanic skipper Alun Wyn Jones (in his record-breaking 149th test for his country) to a shoulder injury, nor the early intercept dished up by Kiwi flyhalf Anscombe. But they regrouped well, got the rub of the green with the yellow card to All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala late in the first spell, and stayed in the contest – at least until the second spell.

From there it was pretty much all the All Blacks as the visitors shifted up a gear and showed just why they’ve won 11 of their 12 tests in 2021. Some of the skillwork from Foster’s men over the second 40 was of the very highest quality.

Tougher challenges are to come for the New Zealanders on this tour, but with men like Barrett and Savea coming into vintage form, it is going to take something special to undo them at this point.

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