The All Blacks have been the dominant team of world rugby yet again in 2012. With their season having drawn to a close, it's now time to rate each players performance.
Israel Dagg: 7.5/10
Dagg looked dangerous every time he touched the ball, was lethal on the counterattack and very good under the high ball. He was also outstanding in clearing the ball under pressure which got the All Blacks out of many tight spots.
Cory Jane: 8/10
Jane was absolutely outstanding all year and didn’t have a bad game. He was dangerous with the ball in space and crossed for seven tries. Under the high ball, he is the best in the world and almost single-handedly diffused the Springboks kick and chase tactics in Dunedin.
Julian Savea: 7/10
Savea made a huge impact in his rookie international season. Big, fast and powerful, he was a handful for defenders and constantly made inroads. He touched down for 12 tries in his nine matches, showing exceptional finishing ability and ending the year as the world’s leading try scorer for 2012. He still needs work under the high ball, but other than that it was hard not to like the beginnings of what could be a very good career.
Hosea Gear: 6.5/10
He didn’t do a great deal wrong, looking good when he got his opportunities. He is devastating with ball in hand, possessing a similar combination of physical attributes as Savea, and he scored a memorable try against Ireland. Gear always looked for work and despite only scoring one try, was involved in many others.
Zac Guildford: 4.5/10
He played the first two tests of the season, but Guildford failed to impress and didn’t regain his place for the Rugby Championship.
Ben Smith: 6.5/10
He has somewhat filled the role Isaia Toeava held for the past five years of backup utility. It was this that saw Smith play centre, wing and fullback at different stages of the season. Smith was always reliable when called upon, running dangerously and taking good options.
Tamati Ellison: 6/10
He regained an All Black spot on his return to New Zealand after an outstanding Super 15. Ellison got limited chances with the All Blacks, but he looked good when he played, notably in an outstanding performance against Scotland which saw him run, pass and defend to a high level.
Conrad Smith: 8/10
One of the most consistent performers of the year and arguably the best back in the world. Defensively, Conrad Smith is the best in the world, reading attacks and rarely missing tackles. The one exception to this came in his lapse against England, but the surprise this caused perhaps shows just how good he has been. On attack he ran strongly and looked threatening whilst also taking good options to set up his outside men and tidied up a lot of messy balls.
Ma’a Nonu: 7/10
He wasn’t quite as prominent as in 2010 and 2011. Nevertheless, he was extremely solid and showed some of his best form towards the end of the Rugby Championship after returning to the No. 12 jersey. Nonu remained a handful with ball in hand and tackled well.
Sonny Bill Williams: 7.5/10
Williams was simply brilliant in the five games he did play and showed how far he has come since his arrival in 2010. He began to run more and looked dangerous but still possessed that deadly offload and knew when to use it. Unfortunately, he left midseason to take up a contract in Japan before returning to Rugby League to play for the Sydney Roosters in 2013.
Daniel Carter: 8/10
Carter reminded everyone that he is still indeed the best No. 10 in the world and by quite some distance. He kicked accurately, ran incisively, directed play well and tackled courageously. He also showed just how much he had been missed upon his return after having missed two games with injury.
Aaron Cruden: 7/10
There was a lot to like from Cruden this year. Whilst still not in the class of Carter, there is a pretty good argument that he is the second best first five-eighth in the world and there are enough signs to show he will eventually eclipse the old master.
As a dangerous runner, he has the ability to put players into gaps. His kicking has improved beyond measure, and he is now reliable kicking at goal and in general play. The 25-minute cameo appearance he gave in the third test against Ireland would rate as highly as any performance from anyone this year—imagine what he could have done had he not been forced to leave the field with injury.
Beauden Barrett: 6/10
Barrett was more or less a development player in 2012, picked on the back of a breakout in the Super 15. He performed admirably though, running dangerously and kicking well. Definitely one to watch.
Aaron Smith: 7/10
At times Aaron Smith was very good with his quick pass setting up the All Blacks to play a fast, free-flowing game. He also sniped around the fringes well, of note scoring a decisive try against South Africa after coming on in the second half. However, the bullet-pass mentality wasn’t always the right one and at times it put the first receiver under unnecessary pressure.
Piri Weepu: 5/10
Weepu wasn’t the player he was a year earlier, only really making a meaningful impact once all year against Argentina in Wellington. Andy Ellis must still be feeling unlucky.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow: 5.5/10
Kerr-Barlow is another player who was picked more or less as a development player for the end-of-year tour. However, he was solid in his two appearances off the bench, and there was enough there to show he is worthy of another shot next year.
Kieran Read: 8.5/10
Read was high-quality all year in every area of the game. On defence he was brutal, and on attack he showed his strong running game and great ball skills. He also brought the physicality that time and again helped the All Blacks have it over their opponents.
Richie McCaw: 8.5/10
After a poor performance in the first test of the year, there was talk that he was past it, but he isn’t the All Black captain for nothing, and McCaw responded to his critics with some of the best rugby of his career. At times he played like a man possessed, everywhere on defence whilst also running strongly. McCaw was the best player during the Rugby Championship, leading from the front and showing incredible commitment. He is deservedly nominated for yet another IRB Player of the Year award.
Sam Cane: 6/10
Cane was something of a gamble when selected in June, picked largely on potential rather than form. He hardly put a foot wrong though.
Liam Messam: 6/10
Messam seems to be leading in the battle to take over from Jerome Kaino as the starting blindside flanker. I've never really been convinced that he is the man for the job though, as he shows good form but not consistently enough. That said, he had his best year with the All Blacks and at times was very good showing-off his strong running game and good ball skills.
Victor Vito: 6/10
Vito was perhaps unlucky not to see more game time as he was very good when he did play. Explosive with ball in hand and has a high work rate on defence as well as being the best No. 2 lineout jumper in the team.
Adam Thomson: 5/10
He didn’t impose himself and his ranging game didn’t fit what the All Blacks were looking for from their blindside flanker, especially whilst being teamed with McCaw and Read. Thompson struggled to get game time as he was seen as third choice behind Messam and Vito, meaning his contribution was limited.
Sam Whitelock: 7.5/10
Whitelock just keeps getting better and now must rank up there with the best locks in the world. He gets through a ton of work around the field and is good at lineout time. His ball skills are good, and he runs well with ball in hand. Whitelock also played the most tests of any All Black this year with 14.
Brodie Retallick: 7/10
Retallick is possibly the find of the season. A big young lock who is exceptionally physical and does the hard work around the field, even though he often goes unnoticed. His work at lineout time is good too. Retallick is definitely a man who will be locking an All Black scrum for many years to come.
Luke Romano: 7/10
Romano was something of a surprise selection at first, but he stepped up well and showed the world what a great talent he is. His best attribute came in his ball running, where he was strong and drew comparisons to Brad Thorn.
Ali Williams: 5/10
Williams was controversially picked for the June tests and the end of year tour. He did little to impress in either, making the selection even more questionable. It’s time to move on, there are a handful of better locks around that could take this spot and deserve to be given a chance.
Owen Franks: 6.5/10
Franks wasn’t quite the dominant figure he was in 2011, but he still remained very solid, getting through his work well, scrummaging strongly and bringing physicality to the contact situations.
Tony Woodcock: 6.5/10
Woodcock was strong at scrum time and solid around the field. He's good running the ball and now brings a wealth of experience to what is otherwise a relatively young group of props.
Ben Franks: 5/10
Franks continues to provide versatility off the bench, capable of playing both propping positions. He didn’t impose himself this year though, particularly at scrum time where the scrum seemed to get weaker when he came on. With versatility being his main draw card, one must wonder about his future in the team now that the IRB allows two props to be chosen on the bench.
Charlie Faumuina: 6/10
Faumuina made his debut this year after impressing for the Blues in the Super 15. He showed he has what it takes at the next level, holding-up okay at scrum time and getting involved around the park.
Wyatt Crockett: 5.5/10
Crockett has been solid rather than spectacular, though he was generally strong when he played, particularly after coming on against Wales where the All Blacks scrum destroyed their opponents. Crockett benefited from the new rules allowing two props to be included on the bench, making appearances in all four games since this rule was introduced, compared with his one prior to this.
Keven Mealamu: 6.5/10
Mealamu didn’t quite reach the heights he has in the past two seasons but was still good nonetheless. He got through his work well and remains a strong ball runner, particularly from the pick and go.
Andrew Hore: 7/10
His year will largely be remembered for his brainless attack on Wales lock Bradley Davies. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that prior to this, Hore indeed played some very good rugby and at times was like a fourth looseforward with his ability at the breakdown and his strength around the field.
Hika Elliot: No rating (lack of game time)
Elliot came on as a replacement against Ireland in his only appearance of the year whilst covering for the injured Keven Mealamu. He was unlucky not to gain the third hooker’s spot for the end of year tour after an outstanding ITM Cup, but Dane Coles was preferred. For these reasons, it’s hard give him a rating.
Dane Coles: 5.5/10
He made his debut on the end of year tour and looked good. Coles pops up around the field and runs well. He has also established himself as the top candidate to take over the No. 2 jersey when Hore and Mealamu decide to move on, with Elliot being a close second.