64 years of hurt that just won’t end 30 defeats in a row at the hands of the mighty All Blacks
WALES briefly threatened to claim a first victory against New Zealand since 1953 before normal service was resumed at the Principality Stadium.
Warren Gatland’s men trailed just 12-11 at half-time after Scott Williams’ try had hauled them back into it.
But Wales will rue not making the most of the lion’s share of territory and possession in the first 40 minutes, their failure to put points on the board proving so costly.
New Zealand crossed the whitewash with their only two attacks of the opening period with wing Waisake Naholo dotting down on both occasions.
There was a second half try double from fellow wing Reiko Ioane and one from replacement centre Anton Lienert-Brown which meant the touchdown by Gareth Davies, who came on for the injured Rhys Webb early on, was academic.
GROUNDHOG DAY ULTIMATELY, it was all depressingly familiar, even if it was deliciusly exciting at times too.
You should know the script by now; Wales come careering out of the blocks, offer up a heroic performance, have everyone daring to dream about an end to an All Black hoodoo stretching back to 1953 and then...pop!
And the pop arrived either side of the hour mark when New Zealand produced a try double-salvo which, if not on its own decisive, was just a killer period for the home side.
There was so much to admire about the performance of Warren Gatland’s men. It was gutsy, it was sprinkled with moments of real quality, it was chocful of bravery and pride.
But in the end it wasn’t quite good enough. In the end New Zaland were able to win even though they spent most of the game defending.
So the wait goes on...
BREATHLESS, FEROCIOUS MODERN Test rugby combat is hardly for the faint-hearted, but every now and again alomg comes an encounter that jolts you for it’s sheer intensity, ferocity and relentlessness.
This was one of those, and it was compelling from start to finish.
Some of the tackling was simply brutal, while the pace of the play was breathless.
The All Blacks’ triumph was staying in the game while Wales emptied the tank in the first half.
Wales, meanwhile, came a cropper because, although they rallied with Davies’ 69th minute try, they simply ran out of gas in the third quarter. Unsurprisingly, they could not maintain their first half levels for 80 minutes.
How many times do we hear players talking about the importance of going the whole 80 minutes? Easier said than done.
A LESSON IN WHAT MATTERS WALES dominated general play throughout the first half to the extent that, by the end of it, they led in every department – other than the scoreboard.
After the first quarter the posses- sion stats were 80-20 in the hosts’ favour and 81% of the action had taken place in New Zealand’s half.
By the 23rd minute the All Blacks had got through a staggering 76 tackles compared to Wales’ 11. It might be a sporting cliche, but had it been a boxing match the referee may have stopped it.
And yet the All Blacks scored from their only two chances. Their only two attacks.
Naholo was the finisher on both occasions, the first being from a piece of magic in midfield by wing Ioane, the second coming after a wave of attacks that began when Beauden Barrett kicked a penalty in front of the posts to touch.
Wales got themselves out of jail somewhat with centre Williams’ try in first half overtime because up to then they had provided an object lesson in how not to make pressure tell in terms of points.
Arguably the stand-out example was when Josh Navidi punched brilliantly through the All Blacks defence shortly before half-time only for a poor pass by Leigh Halfpenny to cause Hallam Amos to spill the ball forward.
OFF-LOADING THE DIFFERENCE MUCH is made of Wales’ pursuit of a more open and fluid style, but there’s more to it than attempting to put a lightning quick winger through a gap.
Time and again we see how important the art of off-loading the ball in the tackle can be in a team’s quest to move forward.
And time and again, Wales’ for-
wards managed to do just that, especially in the first half.
One example was the 22nd minute attack by Wales that saw them move through 15 phases after Steff Evans had made a break from the scrumhalf position.
The move was kept alive because the ball was kept alive, and the pace of it all had the All Blacks scrambling.
WALES’ LINEOUT WOBBLE
PRECISELY what went wrong will be thrashed out on the laptops but Wales’ lineout failings, particularly in the first half, were costly.
In the 11th minute Dan Biggar planted a deep penalty to touch on the All Blacks 22 only for the setpiece to be lost.
And the field position that led to New Zealand’s second try came from another botched lineout in the 34th minute.
In the 50th minute too, after a sumptuous deep penalty to touch by Biggar, the receiver dropped the ball, Wales were on the back foot immediately and then a big hit on Navidi by Sam Cane forced a turover.
Wales weren’t helped in this department by the loss of Jake Ball to a shoulder injury, but not being able to execute in such a core area isn’t really an option against a side as ruthless as the world champions.
It undermined the home side’s momentum on too many occasions.
WHILE Wales supporters will lament what might have been the All Blacks’ final try through Ioane underlined the sheer gap that still exists between these teams.
With captain Sam Whitelock in the sin-bin and the deficit reduced to eight points, many teams, Wales included, would have capitulated in the final 10 minutes or so.
New Zealand just got on with winning the game.
Down to 14 men they created a magnificent first phase try off a scrum which saw Ioane go over all too easily for his second try.
The move was extremely pleasing on the eye from a purist’s point of view, but the ease with which it was executed, so late in the game, took the breath away.
It’s the reason why New Zealand are world champions.
It’s the reason why the gap between them and Wales remains considerable.
Scott Williams touches down for Wales’ opening try of the game
Rieko Ioane celebrates with TJ Perenara after scoring the All Blacks’ fifth try yesterday