New Zealand appeared to have cruise control turned on for much of this evening’s Autumn International match with Wales at the Millennium Stadium, but still produced a couple of bursts of scintillating attacking rugby to lift this match 37-25, scoring five tries to Wales’ one in the process.
Wales got a last minute consolation through Lee Bryne, and had threatened to upset the New Zealand apple cart mid-way through the second half, but the All Blacks produced ten points despite a Welsh power play, just when it mattered, to take the game away from the hosts.
But Wales would be the architects of their own demise, as two key mistakes kicking from their own half would set up All Black counter attacks which led to two instrumental second-half tries.
The first, and worst, such error occurred with just under half an hour remaining.
Wales had worked themselves to a position whereby they were just one point behind New Zealand, before the All Blacks, seeming to be under pressure, lost a player to the sin bin.
Following a New Zealand clearance soon after, Wales won a penalty on the edge of their 22. Jones uncharacteristically missed touch, however, and the ball was worked back across the field with frightening pace by the visiting team, who were very quickly touching down in the corner through Hosea Gear. Dan Carter knocked the kick over despite having missed several easier attempts in the first half, to take the score to 12-20, then followed soon after with a penalty.
A couple of Stephen Jones penalties gave Wales fans some hope. The noise levels raised again as the scoreline hit 18-23, but New Zealand, once threatened, once more pulled out a try to dash Welsh hopes, this time following another kicking mistake.
James Hook collected a long kick in his 22, and found his foot tap-tackled out from under him as he was in the process of clearing. The ball grubbed to the onrushing All Blacks who worked it out to the right where Isaia Toeava touched down. Again, Carter slotted a difficult kick, 18-30.
New Zealand then sealed the deal when prop John Afoa provided great support play, and no shortage of finishing pace to run home from 22 metres under the posts, giving Carter a chance to add another two, which he did. 18-37.
Wales fans would have something to cheer in the final minute, however, when Lee Byrne joined the line to take a good pass from quick ball and dive over the line for a routine full-back’s touchdown. Jones added the kick to keep the scoreline respectable.
New Zealand, perhaps ominously for the rest of the rugby world, had won this game without ever really seeming to get out of second or third gear. When they needed to, they seemed able to summon up tries at will – five of them today – while Wales worked extremely hard, and played extremely well for very little reward.
The signs are good for the All Blacks heading into 2011, their home World Cup year: for they are the best team in the World right now.