Clinical All Blacks a class apart
November 27, 2010
Is New Zealand's Mils Muliaina on course for the IRB Player of the Year award? © Getty Images
Congratulations to the 2010 All Blacks, who will rightfully enter the record books having swept all before them on their latest tour of the UK & Ireland - it is just a shame that they did not have to move out of second gear to complete the job against Wales.
The scoreboard may suggest different but despite a five-try haul they only offered glimpses of the dazzling form that accounted for England, Scotland and Ireland. Wales deserve credit for not allowing their visitors to play for large passages of the game but even when they pulled back to within a solitary point in the second half you were never convinced they would go on and complete the job. In contrast, New Zealand's confidence in their own skillset and their ability to get the job done smacks of a side destined for greatness.
The All Blacks were clinical and classy but only to the point where they needed to be. Perhaps the frenetic pace at which they have played, and others have struggled to match, throughout this year took its toll amid the cauldron that was the Millennium Stadium. Each Wales score appeared to wake them from their slumber, except perhaps for Man of the Match Jerome Kaino - who was a livewire throughout. The blindside may not grab as many of the headlines as team-mates Dan Carter or Richie McCaw but his value to this side is immense, although what looked like a punch in the first half may hit like a hangover in the morning if it attracts the attention of the citing officer.
Carter has already commanded endless complimentary copy and that trend is set to continue after the playmaker cemented his status as one of the sport's greatest players by claiming the all-time Test points record. It appeared that a niggling ankle injury may prevent his ascent to the top of the standings but like the rest of his team he was able to coast into the record books only landing just five of his nine shots at goal. And while Carter will not be happy with the latter stat it will be treasured by those looking for a chink in the All Blacks' armour. Carter's influence on the fortunes of this side are so great that they cannot afford their star to suffer too many off days and that fact alone will cost head coach Graham Henry most sleep between now and the World Cup.
But if he is looking for a little assurance he need look no further than his captain. McCaw's consistency continues to astound and infuriate, if you are Wales' Andy Powell, whose decision to flatten the All Blacks captain with a forearm was a blatant cheap shot.
Elsewhere, for once Sony Bill Williams was unable to dominate proceedings, with Wales' rush defence limiting time and space, but he will no doubt benefit from the experience. And if fullback Mils Muliaina has not done enough to win the IRB's Player of the Year award after another outstanding display then I'm going to make him one myself.
In all likelihood this was the last Test that head coach Graham Henry would take charge of in the northern hemisphere, with his departure from the post expected after next year's World Cup in New Zealand. As a result it was a shame that his charges could not leave a more memorable impression and instead we will be left to marvel at his ability to conjure a third Grand Slam out of this golden generation of All Blacks.
It was another frustrating day at the office for Wales but an all too familiar result at the hands of New Zealand. Fifty seven years of hurt and counting. Back to full strength, the performance was light years from the draw against Fiji last weekend but they still failed to reward the first full house at the Millennium Stadium this month with a historic victory.
Chances came and went and a failure to execute under pressure against a side as stingy as the All Blacks is always going to lead to regret, as was the case tonight. Time and time again Wales' industry carried them to within striking distance but they lacked composure and a cutting edge when it mattered most. That air of panic in the red zone will continue to haunt Wales until they can get themselves over the line against a major Tri-Nations opponent - and therefore enter such scenarios with confidence - something that continues to elude all of their Six Nations rivals.
Wales' defence - along with a vociferous home crowd - appeared to rattle the All Blacks on occasion with their line speed denying the visitors time to think, let alone orchestrate an opening. But instead of feeding on that element they were undone by expectation.
Crucial errors undermined their efforts throughout - whether it was tacklers falling off Isaia Toeava in the build-up to the first try, fullback Lee Byrne's failure to find touch with a penalty or the ongoing issues at the lineout, the hosts were determined to give away their hard earned momentum. Scrum-half Mike Phillips relished the physical challenge of playing the world's best, as did openside Sam Warburton, who more than held his own against McCaw.
If Wales are to remember how to beat the southern hemisphere's finest they must find a ruthless streak to compliment their industry. Seven Tests without a victory - no matter the quality of the opposition - is a run that will soon destabilise their plans for the World Cup. Next up is England in the Six Nations and the clash looms as a crucial barometer as to who, aside from France, is likely to lead the northern hemisphere challenge at the sport's showpiece in New Zealand.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.