Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Waiseke Naholo fights back troubles to provide finishing touch

All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo scores the first of his two tries. Photo / Brett Phibbs
All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo scores the first of his two tries. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Waisake Naholo doesn't do dull, at least not on the evidence of tonight's test against Wales.

In what was an at times sensational performance, combined with moments when he appeared all at sea - especially under the high ball in the still night air above Eden Park - Naholo celebrated only his second test in New Zealand, and fourth altogether, with a bit of a mixed bag.

He was in the spotlight so often it seemed inevitable that he would play a part in the dying moments of this match, and so it proved, Naholo taking Aaron Smith's quick tap as the match entered its final quarter and bowling through first-five Dan Biggar to score the try which gave the All Blacks back the lead.

His mate on the left wing, Julian Savea, was also a bit hot and cold, but it was the No14 from the Highlanders who really caught the eye, either by gliding past his opposite with the merest hint of a head fake and a whole lot of pace in his grey-and-salmon-coloured boots, or by dropping the ball cold with no one around him.

The All Blacks' first movement of the match had them steaming up the field, with Naholo on the right and in space, only for lock Brodie Retallick to dummy and burrow his head in a group of red jerseys. Naholo threw up his hands in despair; it might be harsh to say that was a harbinger of things to come, but it certainly signalled the start of a few difficulties laced with some moments of pure sensation.

Apart from his show of strength in dotting the ball on the line through Biggar's attempted tackle, 25-year-old's next best moment was when he finished off Ben Smith's superb break which started when his Highlanders teammate leapt for the ball in his own territory and shot past the Wales defenders like a bullet from a gun, Aaron Cruden providing the pass on the inside for Naholo to comfortably beat the scrambling Welsh.

That sequence occurred before he came in off his wing and was caught in no-man's land to provide the space for Taulape Faletau to score in the corner, and before he again made an outside break only to ignore the plea to pass from his mate Smith on the inside, unmarked and five metres from the line.

The 43rd-minute replacement of left wing Savea by Beauden Barrett, therefore, was a bit of a surprise. Savea was caught out a couple of times on the left by George North, but had had his moments, including a try from Cruden's pinpoint bomb.

Barrett went to fullback, with Smith moving to the right wing and Naholo swapping to the left. He missed a kick up the left sideline on attack which went into touch, but, fortunately for him and his team, passed a test under the high ball straight after. There was almost an audible sigh of relief from the crowd of 46,000. With the All Blacks down 15-18, every mistake was magnified by the visitors' pressure, so his success at defusing the bomb was imperative and led to Cruden's from penalty between the posts.

He got outside fullback Liam Williams only to be dragged into touch by hooker Ken Owens, but then came his big moment, a show of pace, strength and confidence that perhaps proved coach Steve Hansen was right to leave him out there.

- NZ Herald

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