All Blacks inflict more pain on Wales
Wales 18 New Zealand 33
There was little solace to be found around the streets of Cardiff last night as the city's population set about anaesthetising painful memories of yet another valiant loss to the All Blacks.
All that pluck, all that fizzing spirit, all that skittish running and probing came to naught as New Zealand showed their class to come through a testing challenge with a brace of tries apiece for wings Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo.
So cancel that wake. Put away the black armbands. Reports of the demise of New Zealand rugby have been greatly exaggerated. Once again the All Blacks absorbed punishment to strike hard with two tries within five minutes midway through the second half, rounding off in some style, Ioane getting his second when New Zealand were reduced to 14 men with captain Sam Whitelock in the sin-bin.
New Zealand may have been filleted by injury but history was against Wales. A huge slab of imposing precedent, no win in 29 Tests (15 of them in Cardiff) stretching back over 64 years, indicated that Wales would have to rise to a sustained level to cause an upset. And they did. They took the game to the All Blacks, hitting hard, punching forward before fizzing it wide. After half an hour, Wales had a remarkable 80-20 per cent advantage in terms of possession, and had forced New Zealand to make 81 tackles to 11 of their own, yet still they trailed. That's why New Zealand are world champions: sometimes they shred you, other times they counter-punch ruthlessly. But Wales did not wilt, did not stop believing, as Scott Williams's try on the stroke of half-time following a big bust by Hallam Amos showed.
Wales made a thunderous start and took the lead through a penalty from Leigh Halfpenny, but the early losses of scrum-half Rhys Webband lock Jake Ball didn't help their cause. But still they pressed, creating a couple of good chances and extending their lead through Halfpenny's second penalty.
The All Blacks were on the rack, but even with just two of their 2015 World Cup final starters on the field (Whitelock and scrum-half Aaron Smith), they were a threat all over the field, particularly across the back line.
In Ioane and Naholo, they have finishers of true potency as the All Blacks showed when hitting straight back from Wales' early lead. There is no margin for error against the world champions, as their opening try illustrated. All it took was for Wales' left wing Steff Evans to slip off a tackle on Ioane and New Zealand pounced. Aaron Smith took it on before eventually firing a wide pass to Naholo whose spectacular one-handed dive into the corner under pressure from the covering Evans got due reward with a try given. Beauden Barrett converted with aplomb from the touchline.
That danger was ever-present, though, and Wales never had clear water for all their territorial dominance. Once again it was Naholo who plunged in the dagger, the All Blacks turning down easy kicks at goal and chancing their arm from penalty lineouts and taps. It finally drew a dividend when Sonny Bill Williams hammered forward from a Smith tap, the move ending with the giant wing crashing over in the corner.
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Wales were far from deflated and finished the half on a high, Amos' storming run creating the defensive havoc from where Dan Biggar fed Williams who stormed over. It was 12-11 to the visitors at the interval - breathless stuff.
There was no let-up in the pace, no dilution of the energy and desire. Once again, New Zealand struck just when Wales appeared to be making some sort of inroads. In the 57th minute a ball went wide to Ioane on the left flank. The wing drew in three tacklers yet somehow managed to offload from the floor, the ball bouncing up and was gathered by Anton Lienert-Brown in support.
There was always a danger that Wales would force the play too much and so it proved when Biggar was intercepted by Ioane as he looked to shovel on a pass to Amos. The wing needed no second bidding and was away to the try-line. Wales threw everything into it, once again causing New Zealand to infringe and Whitelock was rightly sent to the sin-bin in the 68th minute for interference at the breakdown. Wales took immediate advantage of the extra man when Gareth Davies lanced over from a short-range scrummage to close the gap to eight points.
A flicker of hope was extinguished when Ioane showed what a world-class talent he is when cutting a lovely wide arc round from a scrum to touch down. It was a suitably splendid sign-off by the All Blacks.
Scorers - Wales: S Williams, G Davies try each, Halpenny con, 2 pens. New Zealand: Naholo, Ioane 2 tries each, Liernert-Brown try, Barrett 4 cons.
Wales: Halfpenny, Amos, S. Williams, O. Williams, S. Evans, Biggar, Webb, R. Evans, Owens, Francis, Ball, A. Jones, Shingler, Navidi, Faletau. Replacements: Dacey, W. Jones, Brown, Hill, Tipuric, G. Davies, Priestland, Roberts.
New Zealand: McKenzie, Naholo, Crotty, Williams, R. Ioane, B. Barrett, A. Smith, Hames, Taylor, Laulala, Tuipulotu, S Whitelock, Squire, Cane, L Whitelock. Replacements: Harris, Crockett, Tu'ungafasi, S. Barrett, Todd, Perenara, Sopoaga, Liernert-Brown.
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