Ardie Savea and Aaron Smith may have been the best on show, but All Blacks coach Ian Foster has made sure to pay the requisite tribute to his tight forwards for the foundation they laid in the runaway test match victory over Wales in Cardiff.
The New Zealanders, led by a trademark man-of-the-match display from Savea and a turn-back-the-clock effort from Smith, ran in eight tries in total as they left a competitive Welsh outfit in their dust en route to a 55-23 victory at Principality Stadium.
Foster was rapt that two of his senior men played so wellwith Savea, who scored one try, flummoxed the Welsh with one of his outrageous dummies to set up another, carried with his usual vigor and nailed all 10 tackles attempted, adding to a body of work that has many labeling him the finest player on the planet this year
“He’s playing pretty good,” said a delighted Foster after the match. “For someone who hasn’t played for a while he didn’t show any rust out there at all. He carried strong. He’s an inspirational part of this team, and he leads really well off the field just through his actions by lui.
“When you see your loose forwards play like that it’s always going to be reflective of a pretty dominant pack up front, and I’m sure he’d say that too. It was a pretty strong collective effort up front and he was able to put a little bit of icing on the cake. “
And the dummy, that was bought by Welsh prop Nicky Smith, to set up Smith’s second try?
“He’s sucked me in on the training field too, so they shouldn’t feel too bad about that,” added the All Blacks coach. “He just likes to express himself, and we quite like it when he expresses himself.”
Foster was also delighted Smith marked his record-breaking 113th test (he is now the team’s most capped back in history) in such sumptuous style with a pair of tries, including one 30-meter dazzling run to the line from a ruck.
“It was a pretty special occasion for him, and to show off with a couple of meat pies would be pleasing for him,” said Foster. “He doesn’t score too many, and those little legs had to run a long way for that first one.
“He’s a massive part of our team and when he gets a flow on he will say it’s reflective of the ball that was delivered up. There were some stages Wales made that hard for him, but I think we overcame that. “
Starting hooker Codie Taylor, who crossed for the first two All Blacks’ tries, was a big part of that fire-and-brimstone effort up front and Foster was delighted that his hooker had made a full return to top form after his shocker against Argentina in Christchurch required somewhat of a reset.
“I thought he built really well on his Eden Park performance (against Australia). We took him out for a couple of weeks just to make sure when he came back onto this stage he was ready and confident. He went away and took the lessons of a couple of poor performances, worked hard on them, and he’s come back and is just looking really clear at the moment.
“He supplies great leadership up front and that 1-2 punch with Soni (Samisoni Taukei’aho) is a pretty powerful one. We still love Soni starting as well, but it’s about building options as we go forward, and we’re delighted. Part of the puzzle was getting him back playing the way we know he can play. “
And the coach said he had expected Dalton Papalii to slot in as successfully as he had at No 7, with skipper Sam Cane back in New Zealand with that fractured cheekbone. The Blues loosie led the defense with a team-high 16 tackles (with just one miss) and carried for 34 meters on 5 runs.
“I thought he showed that last year,” added Foster. “It’s a bit tough when you’re sitting behind the skipper I guess, but whenever he’s been asked to do what he needs to do, he’s played well for us. He’s a different style of 7 but he was abrasive today, and he brings something different to our pack which is exciting for us. “
The All Blacks coach was less fulsome about his midfield situation, after Jordie Barrett underpinned his move to the second five-eighths role with another powerful display. Asked if the the future at No 12 was now clear in his mind di lui, he replied: “Yeah, it’s always clear in my mind.”
Foster said there did not appear to be any serious injuries from the clash, which puts them in good stead as they head to the penultimate match of the year against Scotland at Murrayfield with an eight-day turnaround. He confirmed one or two players might be released again for the All Blacks’ XV’s clash against the Barbarians in London.