Written by Max Sharp
To begin reviewing the All Blacks' rollercoaster 2022 season, we must start with the blokes up front. Every test match the All Blacks have lost in the Ian Foster era, has been due to the performance of the tight-five forwards, while in 2022, we saw major improvements in these contingents of the squad after Jason Ryan replaced John Plumtree as the forwards coach.
While we saw Codie Taylor appear to suffer severe burnout at the start of the season and in Super Rugby (perhaps a symptom of Dane Coles' injury history and Taylor's ability to avoid them), we saw Samisoni Taukei'aho become a revelation in the number 2 jersey.
Unlike last season, we'll read through each player and assess their individual performances throughout the season; before giving each set of contingencies an overall rating; the articles will flow from hooker, to prop, to lock, loose forwards, halves, midfielders and finally, outside backs.
The All Blacks' 2020-22 Hooker Depth Chart.
Individual Season Reviews:
Samisoni Taukei'aho (506 minutes played) - 9/10
After debuting for Waikato in 2016 and the Chiefs in 2017, a 22-year-old Taukei'aho had a big struggle with his lineout throwing for the Chiefs when becoming a regular starter in 2020. However, a huge improvement the following season saw Taukei'aho, not even initially selected for the initial All Blacks squad, supplant Coles and Aumua, to become Ian Foster's second-choice hooker. Rejecting a call-up for Tonga in the 2019 Rugby World Cup had paid off for him.
Becoming the player to earn the most minutes in the jersey in 2022 has seen Taukei'aho also overtake Dane Coles on the depth chart for jersey number 2; 7 of his 12 tests in 2022 were as a starter. With a season stat tally of 7 tries (most for the All Blacks), 232 metres run, 16 defenders beaten, 1 clean break, 77 carries, 19 passes, 5 offloads, 72/82 tackles (87.8%) and 3 turnovers won, it was indeed a phenomenal season for Taukei'aho, who will be a nominee for The Black Jersey's World XV, which will be fan-voted.
Taukei'aho can be proud of all he has achieved this season, having been one of the few bright shining lights in Ian Foster's team.
Codie Taylor (454 minutes played) - 6/10
Taylor had a big form slump in Super Rugby and while the initial signs for what would happen at test level were promising at the back-end of Super Rugby, Taylor's lineout throwing at test level, was a shocker against Ireland, while a wonky lineout throw also cost the All Blacks a win against Argentina in Christchurch.
With Taylor having accumulated 76 tests since his debut in 2015, Dane Coles had already earned 27 caps by this point; though Coles is only 8 test caps ahead of Taylor now; Coles is currently on 84.
Codie Taylor prepares a lineout throw against Ireland at Eden Park. Photo: Max Sharp.
76 test caps in the space of 7 seasons, as well of a lack of injuries, has clearly lead to Taylor suffering from burnout and he missed half of The Rugby Championship as a result; Eden Park's test against Australia was Taylor's lone start of the competition. A much-needed rest saw Taylor return to form, as his lineout throwing and carrying returned to its iconic best.
Though the start of the season wasn't good, Taylor isn't ready to retire quite yet (despite the internet comments from the pessimists) and his end-of-year tour proved a return to his best could still happen indeed. Taylor's contract with New Zealand Rugby doesn't end until 2025, so we may have much more to see from him yet.
Dane Coles (80 minutes played) - 3/10
I've said so for a long time and it becomes more and more apparent, that Coles, 35, is a spent force. Having skipped the majority of the Super Rugby season due to a "calf issue", Coles made the 2022 All Blacks side with just four games of Super Rugby under his belt. Not only did that happen, but Coles played just 80 minutes from four tests in 2022, before withdrawing from a test against Japan due to this same injury; heading home to New Zealand afterwards.
Coles has had issues with his calf ever since 2019; while he had also previously injured this same muscle back in 2016. He is also the sixth-to-oldest ever All Black, while his performances on the pitch at test level were less than ideal - a push-and-shove with Pablo Matera and slow ruck speed in a loss to South Africa come to mind.
Taking up less than 21% of the hooker depth chart, look for Coles to announce his retirement in the coming months, with little disruption to the All Blacks' camp; especially considering the solid form of Brodie McAlister, waiting in the wings as the apparent fifth-choice hooker.
Asafo Aumua (did not play) - No rating
While Aumua did not play for the All Blacks in 2022, Coles' ever-continuing calf strain allowed for Aumua to play massive minutes for the Hurricanes and get a strong extended run of game time with Wellington in the NPC, in which his team was victorious.
Asafo Aumua (second-to-right) enjoyed a strong performance in the Bunnings NPC Final against Canterbury. Photo: Max Sharp.
While some will be apprehensive to him taking up just 4.5% of Ian Foster's hooker depth chart, Aumua has been capped against Argentina, South Africa and Australia, so at least has a reference for what test rugby is like. The fact that he was bought back into the All Blacks (without playing) during the end-of-year tour, also proves he remains on Ian Foster's radar.
With just 6 caps to his name, a 25-year-old Aumua is all but set to finally achieve his potential in 2023 and be a bolter for the World Cup squad.
Overall Hooker Reviews for 2022:
While Coles and Taylor aren't the players they once were, the state of the hooker contingency is in a better place than the start of the season, especially with Taukei'aho gaining near-complete trust from the coaching staff.
Hookers Season Rating: 6/10