Karl Tuinukuafe of North is tackled by Codie Taylor and Samuel Whitelock of South during the North v South rugby match at Sky Stadium on September 05, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Will Jordan put his hand up for Test selection with two tries, including the match winner, in a pseudo All Blacks trial played under the guise of a North Island versus South match in Wellington Saturday.
With Covid-19 restrictions forcing the match to be played in an empty stadium, the South prevailed 38-35.
In a rugby-obsessed country starved of international competition due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was performance not points that mattered most with a 35-man All Blacks squad to be named Sunday.
The clash was played at a frantic pace and produced 10 tries with the lead changing seven times.
The duel between rival flyhalves Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett was expected to headline the match but it was the uncapped Crusaders utility Jordan who made the biggest statement.
Jordan, the leading try-scorer in New Zealand’s Super Rugby competition this year, had a quiet first half but made his mark in the second with a 70-metre try at the three-quarter mark and with time on the clock, and the North ahead 35-31, he latched on to a Josh Ioane crosskick to seal the game for the South.
Rieko Ioane, once hailed as a wonder wing with a phenomenal try-scoring record until dropping out of the limelight last year, has reinvented himself as an outside centre and also scored two well-taken tries for the North.
The tone of the game was set from the kick off when North wing Caleb Clarke charged 40 metres through the South side to pave the way for Ioane’s first try when he followed up a Beauden Barrett grubber kick.
Barrett has made no secret of his preference to wear the 10 jersey after being stationed at fullback during last year’s World Cup, but by full-time there was little to separate him from Mo’unga in the battle of the flyhalves.
Mo’unga did combine well with South fullback Jordie Barrett while Damian McKenzie, wearing 15 for the North, also showed he is still in the frame.
Apart from Jordan, Clarke, and rival backrowers Hoskins Sotutu for the North Island and the South’s Tom Sanders, much of the play was dominated by established internationals and few surprises are expected when new All Blacks coach Ian Foster names his squad.
A more difficult task would be naming a starting XV, but at this stage the All Blacks have no one to play.
Tests involving a composite Pacific side, Australia and the Rugby Championship are on the drawing board but with Covid-19 travel restrictions nothing is confirmed.
The North-South match revived what was once an important annual fixture on the New Zealand calendar.
But after 1986, a year before the first Rugby World Cup, its significance dropped away and it has only been played twice since.
South captain Sam Whitelock said he would like to see it as a regular fixture again.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I know it would have been great for the spectators at home watching. It’s a pity we couldn’t have anyone here but that’s just the way the world is.”
Tries: Rieko Ioane (2) , Damien McKenzie, Aaron Smith, Ash Dixon
Conversions: Damian McKenzie (5)
Tries: Brad Webber, Jordie Barett, Nepo Lualala, Tyrell Lomax, Will Jordan
Conversions: Jordie Barrett (5)
Penalties: Jordie Barrett
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 23 Mitchell Hunt
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Brayden Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Samuel Whitelock (c), 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 George Bower, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Leicester Faingaanuku