Determined Wales come up short again
June 26, 2010
Rickard Kahui breaks clear
© Getty Images
New Zealand completed another unblemished run against northern hemisphere opposition in Hamilton on Saturday, scrapping to a 29-10 victory over a determined Wales.
All Black wing Cory Jane scored his second try in as many weeks to set the home side on their way following last weekend's Caribrook romp, but the hosts were unable to further dent a well-drilled Welsh defence until the final seconds when a lapse from fullback Lee Byrne, who also saw yellow in the first-half, allowed Aaron Cruden to pounce for an opportunist try.
The boot of Dan Carter proved the difference as Wales struggled to stem the flow of penalties at the start of the second-half but an impassioned response from the tourists brought a prized try, their first in three meetings against New Zealand, to the superb Jamie Roberts.
Wales, who handed a start to young fly-half Dan Biggar opposite Carter, dominated the scrum but indiscipline wrecked their chances of a first win on New Zealand soil. The All Blacks were off the pace for much of the contest and will eye major improvements before they open their Tri-Nations account against the Springboks in Auckland on July 10.
Leigh Halfpenny's siege-gun boot was again employed for Wales' opening points after an infringement from Jane and Biggar showed a titillating early glimpse of his style with ball in hand by sparking his side's first meaningful attack with an effective snipe and offload.
Wales relied mainly on the boot in the early stages and despite some inaccurate hoofs were rewarded with a large slice of luck. Byrne's long clearance was touched in flight before Mils Muliaina touched down in-goal, but the tourists were unable to make anything of their five-metre scrum after conceding a free-kick at the engagement.
With a prime, and rare, attacking platform wasted Wales were again guilty of some aimless kicking and the All Blacks had grown weary of returning fire. Zac Guildford carved through the line all-too-easily and Wales' blushes were only spared by a careless knock-on from Jerome Kaino. Richard Kahui was soon in on the act as well, shrugging off Biggar's challenge in midfield before Gavin Thomas' side entry at the ensuing ruck gave Carter his first three points of the night.
The previously subdued Hamilton faithful grew steadily in volume as the All Blacks cranked through the gears, their team sending wave after wave of carries straight at the heart of the Welsh defence. Owen Franks, on as a blood replacement, carried strongly and ground out vital extra yards before the ball was spun into midfield, where Jane lurked. After his long-range effort last weekend this finish was simple, but executed to perfection as he fixed Roberts and slid over with ease.
Ryan Jones then limped from the field with injury and Wales' evening so nearly took a further turn for the worse as Kahui found another yawning gap before kicking the ball away. A shocking penalty attempt from Biggar followed soon after and his team-mates looked equally ragged afterwards as they hacked away at some rock-solid home defence.
Carter showed a rare moment of fallibility in missing a shot at goal as half-time approached but Wales' sigh of relief was ruthlessly cut short. A pinpoint kick from the All Blacks' playmaker pinned them deep inside their 22 and when Matthew Rees' lineout was picked off the home side stepped up their efforts again. Good ball retention had the Welsh tryline under severe pressure and a slip from Byrne, lifting Tom Donnelly in the tackle, yielded three points for Carter and crucially yellow for the Welsh fullback.
The All Blacks extended the lead immediately after the break with Carter's third penalty following another mindless moment from Wales, this time a shoulder charge from Jonathan Thomas as Brad Thorn stretched his legs out wide. Halfpenny then hit the post with an ambitious long-range penalty after Welsh scrum dominance but again they were shown to be off the pace with a dismal kick-chase allowing Jane to break clear with ease.
Carter slotted two further kicks in quick succession as Wales leaked penalties under pressure, with the All Blacks monopolising both possession and territory. Nevertheless, Wales continued to dominate at the scrum and made their first foray into opposition territory after Mike Phillips had attempted to inject some much-needed pace into proceedings.
Tom Prydie's burst was comfortably marshalled but replacement Rob McCusker picked a strong line to send hearts racing in the home camp before the ball was lost forward. McCaw had been pinged at the breakdown to give Wales another shot but again Rees' lineout was errant when Wales desperately needed him to find his target.
Debutant Rene Ranger's eyes lit up at the possibility of a first Test score when presented with the ball in acres of space following a loose clearance but the Blues midfielder was guilty of seeing only the line, not the three man overlap outside him.
Two more yellow cards blotted the closing stages as Sam Whitelock and Thomas were punished for an off-the-ball fracas as Wales looked to defend a five-metre lineout, which they managed to do with a little help from Aled de Malmanche's skewed throw.
Emboldened by a near miss Wales strung together their best move of the game after wing Will Harries, minutes in to his debut, pounced on a loose ball. The Dragons youngster was heavily involved as the visitors raced up field, with replacement scrum-half Richie Rees firing off quick ball. Roberts was sent hurtling for the line but held up by a brilliant Guildford tackle and Jonathan Davies blew the chance that Wales had been dreaming of, selfishly ignoring Halfpenny and Roberts' calls for the ball and coughing the ball up over the line.
Roberts waited only moments for his try though, which was again the product of some quick hands and strong carries. The centre was put over in acres of space, steeping the last defender in some style. Unfortunately for his team-mates there was one last twist as a bobbling ball eluded Byrne in-goal, allowing Cruden to nip in and embarrass his opponent.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.