A matter of respect
June 26, 2010
Wales' Paul James reflects on defeat © Getty Images
Respect is hard-earned in rugby, and harder earned on away soil. Wales knew this when they trooped from the field after taking a shellacking from the All Blacks in Dunedin last weekend.
They weren't the first team to leave Carisbrook with a beating, neither were they the first to be dismissed out of hand in one of world rugby's most hostile environments.
In the build-up to this second Test Wales boss Warren Gatland made no bones about it, he wanted New Zealand's players, press and public to take notice of his side. Tomorrow's newspapers will show how close they are to their goal, but chances are it will be some time until the challenge of a Welsh side is treated with anything like the deference afforded to the arrival of South Africa or Australia.
The problem for Wales in Hamilton, Gatland's old stomping ground, was that they didn't make New Zealand fear for the result. Indiscipline gifted Dan Carter a clutch of simple penalty opportunities, with indiscretions like Lee Byrne's needless sin-binning mixed in with further lack of poise at the lineout to provide a ready-made release valve for the hosts.
The early stages of the second-half cast Carter as a middle order batsman, slowly building an innings by picking off the bad balls when they came down. Uncharacteristically the All Blacks toiled against a Welsh defence that was vastly superior to last weekend, only making an impact when their pack managed to drag play through the contact area, momentarily cracking the line. The tourists threw away this improvement with their costly lapses, Byrne's dangerous tackle, a shoulder charge from Jonathan Thomas and several midfield offsides.
The All Blacks will not be at all pleased with their day at the office and while they were comfortable victors on the scoreboard, plenty of handling errors and a poor showing at the scrum will be concerns prior to the start of the Tri-Nations. South Africa have been in no mood to leave mistakes unpunished this June, just ask France and Wales, and there must be another lift in intensity at Eden Park on July 10.
Wales can take great heart from their scrummaging performance, dominant as it was while the pairing of Tony Woodcock and Neemia Tialata wore numbers one and three for the home side. Paul James stood up to examination in the absence of Gethin Jenkins while Adam Jones, locked out by the brawny Bradley Davies, was on top throughout. The Franks brothers are waiting in the wings for the All Blacks.
Matthew Rees offers so much as a powerful scrummager but, as previously mentioned, his lineout work again cost Wales. It was his missed throw that allowed the All Blacks one more phase at the end of the first-half, Carter taking three points and Byrne seeing yellow as a result, and another five metres from the All Black line quickly ended their first foray of the second-half with his team-mates having slogged away in defence.
Their try, as late in the game as it was, showed great heart and was an important milestone in their development. Having not scored in three Tests against New Zealand, it was some time in coming and rounded off their best period off attack this summer. Winger Will Harries, on for a welcome debut after a strong season with the Dragons, brought exuberance around the fringes in his cameo and with the pack firing, only some white-line fever from Jonathan Davies and a great tackle on Jamie Roberts prevented them scoring earlier.
When it came Roberts' try was well deserved after an excellent individual showing. If any player came back from last season's British & Irish Lions tour with his reputation ballooned it was the Blues centre and after a difficult few months he can rightly be proud of the second-half of his season.
Wales nevertheless return home chastened by three defeats in their rigorous June schedule but hard lessons are exactly what Gatland wanted for his side. Their World Cup campaign in 2011 will be based in Hamilton, his players have now experienced the atmosphere, their base and also had a brutal reality check about their place in the world pecking order. The All Blacks are back in Cardiff in November and this rivalry will be given plenty of room to breathe once again. The issue of respect will also be back on the agenda.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.