What's hot and what's not from the All Blacks' win over Wales at Eden Park
New Zealand recovered from an 18-15 half-time deficit against Wales to continue their unbeaten run at Eden Park, which dates back to 1994. It was an impressive first half from Wales, who produced a far more dangerous attacking game than witnessed during the Six Nations that resulted in tries for Taulupe Faletau and Rhys Webb. Yet, the All Blacks, making an uncharacteristic number of errors, still scored two themselves in the opening 40 minutes, Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo crossing.
The world champions reduced those errors in the second half and upped their offload game while Wales seemed to retreat into their shells a little, failing to make the same yardage that they did in the first half. A second try for Naholo and one for Kieran Read put the game out of Wales’ reach before replacement hooker Nathan Harris added a little gloss to the scoreline with a try in the last minute.
Fabulous full-backs – The two men with the number ‘15’ on their backs at Eden Park were outstanding. Catching the ball deep, they both made huge yardage up the field – and created a try apiece in the first half. Ben Smith caught a misjudged Dan Biggar kick, strode through the defence and passed wide to Aaron Cruden, who released Waisake Naholo on the inside to score. Fifteen minutes later, Liam Williams scythed past the two All Black locks, drew Smith and put Rhys Webb away for a try. Brilliant runners with ball in hand, they proved too slippery for many defenders to grasp and were pretty solid defensively too. Williams even earned praise from the New Zealand TV pundits – a tough crowd to please!
New Zealand’s production line – For all the talk of the world champions being a team in transition, with the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu retiring post-World Cup, the All Blacks team is still packed with experience. Carter’s No 10 shirt has been filled by Aaron Cruden, a man who’s played in a World Cup final himself, while Sam Cane, who has captained the All Blacks, slots in at openside instead of McCaw.
Yes, you can’t replace players of the calibre of Carter and McCaw – important as much for their aura as their rugby ability – but the guys coming in still have plenty of experience and talent. New Zealand must be applauded for the endless stream of class rugby players they produce.
Attacking verve – The All Blacks are renowned for it and there were plenty of glimpses here – Waisake Naholo’s sudden change of pace fooling Wales’ defence, Aaron Cruden’s deft chips finding team-mates in space, Brodie Retallick’s offloads keeping the ball alive. It was just the number of errors that disrupted their momentum at times.
What was more surprising was the adventure shown by Wales with ball in hand. They still kicked plenty of ball but there was purpose to it, trying to get players in behind the New Zealand defensive line, and there was more of a willingness to run it from deep and spread the ball wide. Liam Williams and George North both continually troubled defenders, ducking and stepping round tackles, while Jamie Roberts was putting in long passes as well as breaking the gain-line. Warren Gatland has talked about being “brave and bold” – and Wales certainly showed that at times.
Ardie Savea’s hair – The flanker, who made his Test debut against Wales, has taken the ‘high and tight’ look favoured by players like Danny Care to another level. It’s a big call but it could well be the best haircut in rugby!
Error count – This was New Zealand’s first game since the World Cup final last October, and it showed. There were probably more knock-ons by All Blacks in the first 40 minutes than there were in the whole of their RWC 2015 campaign. They were lethal when they got quick ball and spread it wide, but too often there were dropped balls, knock-ons or other mistakes that disrupted their flow. They made twice as many handling errors as Wales in this game and had their own ball disrupted at the breakdown by Wales – don’t expect them to look so rusty in Wellington next week.
White-line fever – At the end of the first half, Wales had a five-metre scrum under the posts. When the ball came out Rhys Webb fed Jonathan Davies, who was brought down a metre from the line. Then Taulupe Faletau had a go – one metre out again. Wales continued to pummel the line but couldn’t get over it, when perhaps moving it wide would have been the better option. They needed to give the All Blacks a bigger half-time deficit to recover from than three points.
Inorganic chants – It was rather strange to see the words ‘All Blacks’ flashed up on the big screen at Eden Park to encourage the crowd to chant for their team. Surely the chants and songs we here at games should be an organic process? Not generated by offering instructions over screens or tannoys. Let fans create their own atmosphere.
NEW ZEALAND: B Smith; W Naholo, M Fekitoa (S Tamanivalu 75), R Crotty, J Savea (B Barrett 43); A Cruden, A Smith (TJ Perenara 70); J Moody (W Crockett 48), D Coles (N Harris 71), O Franks (C Faumuina 46), L Romano (P Tuipulotu 53), B Retallick, J Kaino, S Cane (A Savea 61), K Read (capt).
Tries: Savea, Naholo 2, Read, Harris. Cons: Cruden 4. Pens: Cruden 2.
WALES: L Williams (G Anscombe 65); G North, J Davies, J Roberts (S Williams 65), H Amos; D Biggar, R Webb (G Davies 72); G Jenkins (R Evans 65), K Owens (S Baldwin 65), S Lee (T Francis 72), B Davies (J Ball 72), AW Jones (J Ball 45-51), R Moriarty, S Warburton (capt, E Jenkins 72), T Faletau.
Tries: Faletau, Webb. Con: Biggar. Pens: Biggar 3.
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