All Blacks leave Wales in their wake
Graham Jenkins at the Millennium Stadium
November 24, 2012
Wales' Jonathan Davies tries to shake off New Zealand's Andrew Hore © PA Photos
If officials co-ordinating this week's anti-bullying campaign were looking for a suitable epitaph with which to hammer home the damage done by those who torment the lives of others they need look no further than New Zealand's crushing victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
The All Blacks handed out yet another rugby lesson on their end of year promenade through Europe with the Welsh just the latest to feel the power of this very special side that has already swept Scotland and Italy aside and will now have England in their sights.
The tone of the contest was set within a minute with All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore sending a swinging arm into Wales lock Bradley Davies' head that along with a rogue knee knocked the second row senseless and brought a premature end to his game. Hore's brutal act may have escaped the attention of both the referee and his assistant but it will no doubt lead to a citing in the coming days that should ensure the grizzled veteran is Christmas shopping this week rather than preparing for the tour finale at Twickenham.
Thankfully the All Blacks would later revert to their usual armoury or power, pace and discipline to first shackle and then blow their opponents way. Wales were so much better than the side that were battered by Argentina and then upset by Samoa in recent weeks but were still some way from their best form. Injuries to Davies, prop Aaron Jarvis and centre Jamie Roberts within the first quarter hampered what plans they had to tackle the world champions but even with that trio they would have struggled to live the pace and intensity that the All Blacks find so easy.
Wales can take comfort from the fact they are not alone in their suffering. The gulf that was used to be painfully evident between Europe's best and their southern hemisphere rivals may have closed in recent years but another has opened between the All Blacks and the rest of the world. The likes of Australia and South Africa may be able to live with their Rugby Championship rivals for a short while, maybe even 80 minutes, but at the moment they can only dream of the excellence and the consistency that New Zealand use as a starting point.
That superiority takes many forms with their outstanding fitness a key factor in their latest victory over Wales that ensures the hosts will continue to dream about emulating the fabled side of 1953. This game came towards the end of a gruelling season that has seen them go toe-to-toe with the best in the world on a regular basis and remain unbowed and unbeaten - but still they maintain the standards that have served them so well in recent years.
The All Blacks' strength in depth is another enviable trait underlined by fly-half Aaron Cruden's display. The loss of a player such as first-choice playmaker Dan Carter just two days before the match would destabilise many side but not this one. Cruden stepped into Carter's sizeable boots and dictated proceedings and kicked his goals in a performance as assured as his sidelined team-mate could have produced.
But it is not their ludicrous talent pool, work ethic or fitness that really stands this side apart from the rest of the world - it is their mental strength and agility. They soak up wave after wave of pressure and have supreme confidence in their defensive patterns and each other. You will rarely see this side rattled and if they are it is momentary.
No other team is as potent with ball in hand with every pass fizzed with confidence and not only do they play the best rugby it comes to them so easily. They have a level of understanding that goes beyond any coaching manual or training pitch - it is in their blood. The way they can switch from defence to attack, their support for each other and the outstanding skills of every player - from 1 to 15 - is such an enthralling advert for the game.
Wales' attempt to live with their rivals faltered early and did not recover. The tactic to kick penalties to the corner proved costly for England against Australia last weekend and so it proved for Wales with fly-half Rhys Priestland's failure to make touch - sending the ball dead - was unforgivable given the scarce amount of chances you can expect to be given by the All Blacks. But he was not the only one guilty of lacking a clinical edge. New Zealand would never be so wasteful.
The home side's endeavour may well have brought them more than their fair share of territory and possession but if you do not make the most of those opportunities then you can expect the All Blacks to make you pay - as they did with flanker Liam Messam's try a joy to behold from start to finish.
Wales added some gloss to the scoreboard with two tries but the game was all but beyond them and with New Zealand having emptied their bench. The joy and fist-pumping delight that greeted their first try - both in the stands and on the pitch - was a little alarming and suggests a great deal about the level of expectancy among fans and certain players. Celebrating a score with such vigour at that stage of the game against a side that were clearly control of the contest should be concerning. This Wales side has set higher standards for itself and should not be pleased with token scores.
The second half was a draw but Wales should take little comfort from that fact and send more time on figuring out how they can conjure the intensity and performance levels of the All Blacks ahead of their clash with Australia next weekend that will go a long way to defining their world ranking and their fate at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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