Classy All Blacks draw Wales' sting
November 7, 2009
Wales' Martin Roberts is tackled high by New Zealand's Dan Carter during the clash at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Dan Carter Warren Gatland Zac Guildford Steve Hansen James Hook Andrew Hore Paul James Stephen Jones Richie McCaw
The All Blacks machine rolled to another impressive victory in Cardiff to leave Wales' dreams of ending 56 years of heartache in tatters.
Don't be fooled by the scoreline - this result was never really in doubt with New Zealand cruising to victory on the back of an astute tactical game plan. Often criticised for their apparent shortcomings, the All Blacks' coaching trio of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith out-foxed their compatriot and Wales coach Warren Gatland before a ball had been kicked.
Gatland claimed this week that the All Blacks had "lost their aura of invincibility" since his playing days and he may have a point but even so they remain a class apart from the even their closest challengers and that fact was rammed home at the Millennium Stadium.
The All Blacks cleverly drew Wales' sting in an attempt to diffuse the occasion of the kind of intensity that had them wobbling 12 months ago. They anticipated a similar cauldron-like atmosphere that greeted them on that day but there was no pre-game stand-off this time around and the game had less of an explosive edge - thanks largely to the visitors' refusal to play fire with fire in the opening stanza.
With the ever-impressive Dan Carter pulling the strings the Al Blacks played the territorial game kicking the ball deep from where Wales' strong ball runners could not hurt them. The move went against the All Blacks' natural tendency to run good ball but succeeded in its aim to shackle their hosts.
Usual service was resumed after the break with a change in tempo that suggested the All Blacks had been playing the first half with the hand brake on. Gone were the restraints of an enforced kicking game to be replaced by a lesson in running rugby - quick ball, slick handling, power and pace to expose Wales' shortcomings.
Wales struggled to live with their rivals as a result and if it were not for some determined defence - and the All Blacks' lack of a clinical edge - this game would have been over long before Alun Wyn-Jones tired legs ran out of steam just short of the line despite a capacity crowd doing their best to carry him there. Glory beckoned for the lanky lock who sets the standard in so many ways and had he summoned the energy to reach his goal it would have gone a long way to exorcising the pain of the last half century but in the end he fell agonisingly short.
Unsurprisingly Wales performance dropped off under the strain of the mental and physical workload which underlines the fact, like all their northern hemisphere rivals, there is work to do before the world's best gather in New Zealand in two years time. Wales may match up man-to-man in key areas, with the likes of Jamie Roberts and Martyn Williams once again stand outs, but appear to lack the guile of the All Blacks.
Carter's value to New Zealand cannot be underestimated. As much as Henry and co may like to think they have the strength in depth to cope in his absence without him they are not the same side - a fact he shares with his skipper Richie McCaw. How grateful Henry must be his talisman shrugged off the calf injury that put his place in the line-up in jeopardy.
Carter may miss the Rugby World Cup winners medal that some argue bars his ascent to true greatness but I do not buy that. Next week, bar any citing, will likely see him become the All Blacks' leading all-time scorer and despite Jonny Wilkinson's return to the international stage his place at the top of the world is also Carter's for the taking. He may well have become the pantomime villain by the close for his high challenge on Wales scrum-half Martin Roberts but he will have left with the respect of most.
In youngster Zac Guildford the All Blacks have another star in the making having made a seamless step up to the international stage with an assured display in arguably the most charged atmosphere there is to be found in world rugby.
New Zealand march on to Italy, England and France in the coming weeks and their hosts can expect further improvement from the Men in Black.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September