Wales were beaten but unbowed in Wellington but try as they might, they can't get that elusive win against the All Blacks. Here are five talking points from the game...
Brave. But not enough in a brave new world
Wales lost by 36-22 in Wellington and with it the Series. But despite the loss and a set piece which made a Welsh win highly unlikely, this was a Wales playing a very different style of rugby to even a month ago. There are many who will be loathe to praise this Welsh team in the wake of a series defeat and maybe they have a point. But the Wales of 12 months ago would have had no chance of beating the All Blacks by playing kick and chase/ 12 channel rugby. At least the Wales of the last fortnight has clearly changed its playing style. In Wellington, as the week before, Wales adopted a more intricate passing game in the forwards with Sam Warburton and Samson Lee joining Alun Wyn Jones in passing ‘one out’ from contact.
The Welsh centres, despite missing some very uncharacteristic tackles in midfield (ten between them) thrived in their new roles – Davies throwing a miss one, on his ‘wrong hand’, being a fine example. This isn’t to say that Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies weren’t direct, they were, Jon Davies nearly handed off Seta Tamanivalu through a time corridor and directly into next week’s third test. But above all, it was encouraging to see the entire Welsh backrow playing like modern, carrying backrow forwards, freed from their claustrophobic role of ball foragers. None of this was enough of course and Wales were comfortably second best, but Wales 2.0, the upgrade, is the future and if they have any dreams of competing long term with the All Blacks they must persevere with this new rugby.
Three dimensional All Blacks
During the second test Wales had phases where they passed well, kicked accurately and broke the line, but rarely at the same time. The All Blacks do it all at the same time. It is the ultimate in three dimensional rugby where all aspects of the game take place as one seamless action, not sequentially. The All Blacks scored four tries in 14 minutes in Wellington with some of the finest rugby that you will see all season. To watch Kieran Read, Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo execute a move from the back of a scrum, like the 1990 LA Lakers, was a joy.
And to witness a 70 metre try starting by a diving one handed offload from a blindside flanker, in Jerome Kaino, and finished by an openside flanker in Ardie Savea was even better. Watching the opposition shredding the team of your homeland may seem as weird as enjoying seeing someone scratching your new car with a nail, but this was like watching Banksy etching on your beloved paintwork.
One pass that summed up the difference
It may seem incongruous that a game as complicated and dynamic as rugby can be reduced to one incident, when explaining the difference between two teams, but with Aaron Smith’s pass in the 20th minute, it can. As in the first test, Wales had a tendency to over blitz and were undone by one of the finest passes of the season.
With Wales defending their try line, and with four players focussed on the narrow channels, Aaron Smith threw one pass that deleted four players from the defensive line and left the All Blacks with the simplest of finishes. If there was a trophy for pass of the season, and there might as well be, because everything else in rugby seems to have its own trophy, then Smith’s pass would lift it. Well played Aaron Smith.
Wales are benefiting from Ross Moriarty
Wales losing Dan Lydiate pre tour wasn’t exactly ideal – they’ve been far more porous in his absence. But despite forcing Wales to breakup their preferred backrow combination, Ross Moriarty has certainly changed the carrying dynamsim in the Welsh pack. As in the first test, Moriarty contributed significantly to Wales’ ball carrying and ‘straightened’ some horrible possession when required.
His numbers may say that he only carried 12 metres, but when you consider that Toby Faletau only managed to move the ball 18 metres, it adds some perspective. Some may point to the absence of Dan Lydiate as contributing to Wales’ very low tackle completion, just 74% in the second test, and whilst Moriarty’s defence may not be Lydiate standard, his all-round game is becoming increasingly important to Wales.
Liam Williams. Magnificent
The evolution of Liam Williams as a player has been completed over the past few weeks in New Zealand. A player whose style was once as abrasive as a £10 bottle of vodka is now organic, triple filtered and refined – but still able to knock your head off. Williams, as in the first test, blended an attacking subtlety rarely seen from Welsh wings and fullbacks over recent years, with defensive abrasion. Top for metres carried and offloads on both teams, (124 metres and two offloads), five defenders beaten, three clean breaks and not a single tackle missed.
It is no exaggeration to say that Liam Williams has been the equal of both Ben Smith and Israel Dagg over the past fortnight – both of whom have been considered the best fullback in the world over the past five seasons. Many believe that Stuart Hogg will be wearing the Lion’s fifteen shirt in New Zealand in 2017 – don’t be surprised if a thrilling airborne tussle for the shirt with Liam Williams ensues.