By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
In a nutshell
THIS RESULT was never in doubt. New Zealand are on another level to every other Test side right now and proved that yet again at the Millennium Stadium. They weren’t at their best, the influx of second-half replacements causing their game to become disjointed, but they made everything look so easy, so simple. They feasted on Wales’ mistakes, counter-attacking from deep and being clinical when chances presented themselves, and scored three tries. Wales regrouped well in the second half – many sides would have crumbled at 33-0 down – to cross twice, but the gap in class was clear.
In the 33rd minute and with New Zealand 16-0 up, Wales had the momentum following a scything Jonathan Davies break from inside his own 22, but Rhys Priestland put the ball dead from the ensuing penalty – for the second time in the game – and that attacking impetus was lost.
Called into the starting team only the night before, Aaron Cruden looked right at home as New Zealand’s general. He slotted his kicks and was ready to counter-attack whenever the opportunity arose, his slick passing game pulling Welsh defenders every which way.
Room for improvement
Wales’ ability to keep players on the pitch needs some work! Throughout the autumn series they’ve been hit by injuries and the same was true yesterday. Bradley Davies was laid out after being hit by Andrew Hore’s forearm in the opening minute – an incident that will surely result in a citing – and Aaron Jarvis hurt his knee a minute later, then Jamie Roberts was off with a hip injury inside the first quarter. Selections could be very interesting for the Australia game next weekend!
It was basic errors that cost the home side – knock-ons, missed tackles and failed kicks to touch – and they have to be more accurate against the Wallabies if they are to avoid defeat and guarantee a place in the top eight for the RWC 2015 draw.
Wales’ intensity and tempo was a step up from their previous two autumn Tests, Alex Cuthbert, Sam Warburton, Toby Faletau and Liam Williams all standing out, but they need to maintain that level for the full 80 minutes. The same is true of the All Blacks. They stepped off the gas in the last half-hour, although they were still comfortable winners. Other than that and Hore’s off-the-ball shot, there’s little you can fault when it comes to the world champions.
In quotes – winners
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw: “They fronted up. It was one of the most physical battles I’ve been in for a while.”
In quotes – losers
Wales coach Warren Gatland: “We showed real character. A team of lesser character would have thrown in the towel but we kept taking the game to the All Blacks.”
Wales conceded 21 turnovers to New Zealand’s ten – something you simply can’t afford to do against the world’s best team.
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts (Scott Williams 19), Liam Williams; Rhys Priestland (James Hook 68), Mike Phillips (Tavis Knoyle 55); Paul James (Gethin Jenkins 55), Matthew Rees (Ken Owens 65), Aaron Jarvis (Scott Andrews 2), Bradley Davies (Aaron Shingler 2), Luke Charteris, Ryan Jones (Justin Tipuric 50), Sam Warburton (capt), Toby Faletau.
Tries: S Williams, Cuthbert.
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea (Ben Smith 76); Aaron Cruden (Beauden Barrett 68), Aaron Smith (Piri Weepu 50); Tony Woodcock (Wyatt Crockett 50), Andrew Hore (Dane Coles 55), Owen Franks (Charlie Faumuina 60), Luke Romano (Brodie Retallick 50), Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam (Victor Vito 70), Richie McCaw (capt), Kieran Read.
Tries: Messam, Woodcock, Romano. Cons: Cruden 3. Pens: Cruden 4.
Sin-bin: Jane (59min)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa).