The All Blacks sure know how to spoil a party. When Beauden Barrett went over on the 69th minute the Millenium Stadium went from theme park to mortuary. Wales has been waiting 61 years for a taste of the good stuff, and Cardiff was on the verge of spontaneous combustion as Leigh Halfpenny’s kick sailed over with only a dozen minutes left on the clock. To respond so quickly was cruel. The last ten minutes were uncalled for.
Wales played well, very well, for 68 minutes. They gave better than they got in the first half. Sonny Bill Williams was targeted and totally shut down, Conrad Smith was given no time or space to spin his magic. Their line speed was excellent, and the tackles ferocious. The All Blacks were rattled. Uncharacteristic handling errors appeared and silly penalties were given away under the stress. Even Richie McCaw, in his 100th game as All Black captain, was piling in from the side to disrupt the sturdy Welsh attack.
The set piece was a point of difference. Paul James struggled to deal with Owen Franks, and certainly wasn’t winning the argument with Wayne Barnes. The lineout was worse. Jerome Kaino nicked two in the first half, Brodie Retallick two in the second. Sam Whitelock made things difficult on a few others.
Few tears would be shed if Mike Phillips were to have played his last test. None of the Welsh substitutions had a positive impact, but it’s no coincidence that things went downhill after Phillips replaced an injured Rhys Webb. Kieran Read’s charge down was as much appalling execution as it was defensive commitment. Had Gareth Davies not damaged his knee there’s a good chance Phillips wouldn’t have been on the pitch, but surely now his goose is cooked.
It took Brian Moore an age to decide on man of the match, and how could you blame him? His nominee Jamie Roberts was excellent, so too Webb and Dan Biggar. Had Moore thought a little harder he might have come up with Read, the outstanding All Black no8 whose form has peaked on the year end tour. His value as a link man and standard setter cannot be overstated.
New Zealand head home on time for once. They’ve learned their lesson on overstaying their welcome. Wales, unfortunately, have insisted on one more run-out, against the Springboks on Saturday. With a handful of Premiership players unavailable and a couple more injuries to account for, it looks like a long week ahead for Warren Gatland and friends.
WALES 16 vs 34 NEW ZEALAND
Saturday, November 22, 17:30 GMT, Cardiff
06 mins – L. Halfpenny pen 3-0
23 mins – B. Barrett pen 3-3
42 mins – J. Savea try 3-8
43 mins – B. Barrett con 3-10
46 mins – R. Webb try 8-10
47 mins – L. Halfpenny con 10-10
52 mins – L. Halfpenny pen 13-10
64 mins – J. Kaino try 13-15
68 mins – L. Halfpenny pen 16-15
69 mins – B. Barrett try 16-20
70 mins – C. Slade con 16-22
73 mins – K. Read try 16-27
74 mins – C. Slade con 16-29
77 mins – B. Barrett try 16-34
L. Halfpenny; A. Cuthbert, J. Davies, J. Roberts, G. North (L. Williams 65); D. Biggar (J. Hook 74), R. Webb (M. Phillips 56); P. James (N. Smith 74-76), R. Hibbard (S. Baldwin 62), S. Lee (R. Jones 74); J. Ball (L. Charteris 62), A.W. Jones; D. Lydiate (J. Tipuric 62), S. Warburton (capt.), T. Faletau.
B. Smith; C. Piutau (C. Slade 56), C. Smith, S.B. Williams (R. Crotty 70), J. Savea; B. Barrett, A. Smith (T.J. Perenara 72); W. Crockett (J. Moody HT), D. Coles (K. Mealamu 65), O. Franks (C. Faumuina 47); B. Retallick, S. Whitelock (P. Tu’ipulotu 65); J. Kaino (L. Messam 65), R. McCaw (capt.), K. Read.
Referee: W. Barnes (RFU)
Assistants: C. Joubert (SARU) & L. Pearce (RFU)
TMO: G. Hughes (RFU)