Written by Max Sharp.
Those who are New Zealanders supporting The Black Jersey, will be unable to watch my analysis of this match on YouTube due to copyright claims, but the feel of that video was definitely a positive one for Japan, who really made a push towards tier 1 status.
The All Blacks also bought out some innovative plays during the first half, but two late passages of possession allowed Japan to score twice in quick succession, with the All Blacks holding a half-time lead of 21-17. Inconsistency followed into the second-half, with Japan unable to steal a late win at the death; Richie Mo'unga's last-minute penalty goal saw the match finish with a 38-31 margin for the All Blacks, a smallest-ever win margin over the Brave Blossoms.
Let's read through the All Blacks' lineup from the test, from jersey number 1 through to 23, to see how each individual player performed.
Match-Day Analysis of the All Blacks' victory over Japan, uploaded to The Black Jersey on YouTube (unavailable in New Zealand due to copyright claim).
All Blacks Player Ratings
Loosehead Prop - George Bower (3/10)
Bower had an admirable scrummaging performance, but severely lacked sturdiness elsewhere. 3 metres off 3 carries and 3 passes could have been improved on, while a tackle rate of 1/4 left much to be desired. The All Blacks' deficient ruck percentage of 94% compared to Japan's 95%, also raise questions.
Hooker - Samisoni Taukei'aho (8/10)
Started in place of Dane Coles, who was a late withdrawal due to injury. Taukei'aho's lineout throwing was solid in the game, while he ran 34 metres, beat 3 defenders and made a linebreak off 9 carries. One of Taukei'aho's five passes gave the try assist for Brodie Retallick too. Well-put together body of work.
Tighthead Prop - Nepo Laulala (5/10)
Did well in the scrum and demonstrated improved ruck speed since his return from injury. Below-average defence with 3/5 tackles, 5 metres off 8 carries is a little mediocre too. After seeing Laulala looking fresher though, the takeaway from this game is that things are getting better.
Lock 4 - Brodie Retallick (4/10)
Retallick did so much good on the pitch, only for it to be undone by a well-deserved red card for a shoulder to Kazuki Himeno's head. With 1 try, 39 metres and 2 defenders beaten off 10 carries and 5/6 tackles, he'd have had a much higher rating if not for the card.
Lock 5 - Tupou Vaa'i (5/10)
Made the second-to-most tackles in the team with 10/11, while running 21 metres off 13 carries in the tight channels. While Vaa'i will be happy to have played the full 80, a knock-on in the lineout and poor ruck speed will be his work-ons for next time.
Blindside Flanker - Shannon Frizell (6/10)
Replaced by Patrick Tuipulotu in the 63rd minute, causing Vaa'i to temporarily move to lock. A strong distributor with 7 passes, though Frizell's own carrying could have been stronger. One of just five All Blacks not to miss a tackle, though possession rates only saw his tally reach 5.
Openside Flanker - Sam Cane (5/10)
Finished his season off with a bit of a dud. The team's top tackler with 13/14, also making 6 passes, though the other facets of his game were off, especially communication with the referee. A fractured cheek bone in the last 10 minutes means Cane will head home injured.
Number 8 - Hoskins Sotutu (6/10)
Was Sotutu average in this match, or was a lack of game time showing? Showed real strength on attack with 1 try, 20 metres and 3 defenders beaten, off 14 carries, while distributing well with 10 passes and 1 offload. 1 tackle in 66 minutes though, really?
Halfback - Finlay Christie (3/10)
Not the kind of performance that will displace Aaron Smith as the first-choice any time soon. Poor kicking, while not really stamping authority when passing. 4/6 tackles is rather average, as is 3 metres from 3 carries. A performance to forget.
First-Five - Richie Mo'unga (4/10)
While he remains the All Blacks' best 10, there's a first time for everything. By that, this was Mo'unga's first poor test at 10 under Foster. Though Mo'unga made 33 metres off 8 carries and beat 4 defenders, with strong hands-on involvement as a decision-maker, but there's more to rugby than attack stats. Mounga's 4/6 tackle attempts were average, while his tactical kicking was nothing but robotic and predictable.
Left Wing - Caleb Clarke (6/10)
Despite missing neither of his 2 tackle attempts, Clarke's defensive positioning was again exposed. Considering his massive frame, he'd always shine on attack in this test and did indeed with 1 try, 87 metres, 3 defenders beaten and 1 clean break from 13 tackles. Defence is a major concern though, especially with England fast-approaching.
Second-Five - Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (5/10)
Demonstrated that his distribution has improved with 11 passes and 5 offloads, while his crash-ball running was dynamic, with 58 metres and 6 defenders beaten. Tuivasa-Sheck's lack of kicking game definitely cost the team though, while 4/7 tackles was poor.
Centre - Braydon Ennor (4/10)
While he scored his first test try, things weren't all well for Ennor, who missed both of his tackle attempts. Only managing 4 passes and 6 carries as well, will dropping Ennor and Tuivasa-Sheck to the All Blacks XV be the answer to combination-building?
Right Wing - Sevu Reece (5/10)
Many wished for some magic from Reece, but it was a real mixed bag. Running a match-high 92 metres, to go with 1 try, 5 defenders beaten and 1 clean break off 12 carries, Reece's attack was the very opposite of his poor defence, which was 5/9 tackles. A real mixed bag.
Fullback - Stephen Perofeta (6/10)
Some will argue that it was good for Perofeta to play 80 minutes as a key decision-maker for the All Blacks, but Foster missed a golden opportunity to find his third-choice 10. Linked up for 9 passes, while running 50 metres from 9 carries, but is this truly enough preparation for him to fill in for an injured Mo'unga or Barrett if worst comes to worst?
Reserve Hooker - Codie Taylor (7/10)
Called into the bench late for Coles, Taylor wasn't expecting to play but did well. Carried hard with 13 metres off 5 carries and threw all his lineouts on target. While Taylor's tackle rate was 4/5, his single miss was crucial in slowing down Matsushima, allowing for Lienert-Brown's try-saving tackle.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Ofa Tu'ungafasi (6/10)
A lack of time on the pitch saw Tu'ungafasi make just 2 carries without running any metres, while his ruck speed could have been quicker. 5/5 tackles was a solid effort considering his teammates' defensive performances.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Tyrel Lomax (4/10)
On for Laulala in the 55th minute and didn't quite bring his best onto the pitch, with 4/6 tackles. Impact off the bench perhaps isn't Lomax's best role, he's looked far more comfortable as a starter for the All Blacks, so do so against Wales.
Reserve Lock - Patrick Tuipulotu (7/10)
Got a 17-minute cameo under his belt, before being released back to the All Blacks XV. Tuipulotu's 5/6 tackles were all solid hits, while his 2 carries saw 4 metres and 1 defender beaten to get some go-forward. Did exactly what was required.
Reserve Loose Forward - Dalton Papali'i (8/10)
Fired up and ready to go after seeing the team's struggles, Papali'i replaced Sotutu with 14 minutes left, with Cane moving to number 8. With 5 metres off his lone carry and the third-to-most tackles of the whole team, with 9/9, this was a freakish level of impact.
Reserve Halfback - Aaron Smith (No rating)
With his calming presence from jersey 21, the All Blacks looked noticeably more settled as Japan attempted to achieve their first-ever win over the All Blacks. While Smith's single carry and tackle weren't enough to get him a rating, this was very important to see.
Reserve Utility Back - David Havili (No rating)
Replaced Tuivasa-Sheck with just 11 minutes left, with 5 metres off 2 carries and 1/2 tackles, Havili didn't play enough to get a rating.
Reserve Midfielder - Anton Lienert-Brown (7/10)
In his long-awaited return from shoulder surgery, Lienert-Brown's 5/5 thumping tackles included a try-saver on Kotaro Matsushima, while he also ran 7 metres and beat 1 defender from 3 carries. A great sign of what's to come for 2023.