All Blacks dash Welsh hopes
November 22, 2008
Wales centre Jamie Roberts is tackled by Dan Carter and Richie McCaw
© Getty Images
Wales suffered a 20th successive defeat against New Zealand after All Blacks superstar Dan Carter inspired an imperious second-half revival.
New Zealand, the world's top-ranked team, trailed 9-6 at half-time to three penalties from Wales fly-half Stephen Jones. But Carter and company responded superbly to the crisis, scoring 23 unanswered points as centre Ma'a Nonu and flanker Jerome Kaino claimed tries.
Carter finished with 19 points from five penalties and two conversions, giving him a tally of 92 in five appearances against Wales. Reigning Six Nations champions Wales gave it their all, yet they had no answer once New Zealand stepped up a gear to exorcise memories of their World Cup quarter-final defeat against France at the same venue 13 months ago.
Wales, who have beaten Tri-Nations opposition just twice in 33 attempts during rugby union's professional era, could not maintain their first-half fluency. Skipper Ryan Jones, full-back Lee Byrne and centre Jamie Roberts all played pivotal roles in establishing a narrow interval advantage.
New Zealand, though, only need victory over hapless England at Twickenham next Saturday to complete another grand slam tour. And the alarm bells will ring in English ranks, given the All Blacks have beaten Scotland, Ireland and now Wales by amassing 83 points without conceding a try.
Wales made their intentions clear not to stand off their illustrious visitors even before the game started. New Zealand performed their traditional pre-match Haka - but they were completely unprepared for Wales' response.
As the All Blacks prepared to embark for kick-off, the entire Wales team remained in unison on their own 10-metre line, as if staring down their illustrious opponents. It riled All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, while South African referee Jonathan Kaplan did not quite know what he should do next, before both teams eventually broke away.
And it had certainly had the desired effect from a Welsh perspective as Jones kicked them ahead. Wales boss Warren Gatland had urged the importance of a good start after Wales conceded 10 early points to South Africa a fortnight ago, and his players certainly came up trumps.
Seemingly inspired by the presence of world boxing champion Joe Calzaghe, Wales doubled their lead on 14 minutes through a second Jones strike, and Gatland could have absolutely no complaints about his team's composure.
New Zealand cut the deficit when Carter booted an easy 17th-minute penalty, but he then failed to punish Wales hooker Matthew Rees' indiscipline when an angled penalty attempt hit the post.
The unflappable Jones completed his penalty hat-trick after 23 minutes, giving New Zealand more food for thought, and Wales continued to play impressive front-foot rugby. Wales possessed a real edge about their game that continued to force errors from a New Zealand side unaccustomed to playing second fiddle against any opponent.
Wales captain Jones was at the heart of a mighty effort, delivering easily his most accomplished display since last season's Six Nations campaign. And his team-mates were not far behind, following his stirring example to close out the half, despite Carter kicking a second penalty.
Wales were unable to start the second period with similar authority though, and Carter's third successful penalty made it 9-9. Wales number eight Andy Powell then blundered, throwing out a wild midfield pass that put his team under pressure and almost led to New Zealand scoring.
It heralded the All Blacks' most sustained spell of pressure in the match - a warning to Wales for not making territorial dominance count. New Zealand were far more of a threat than they had been in the first half, and Wales knew they had to keep their shape.
But the All Blacks struck with two Wales players down injured, as slick passing resulted in a try for Nonu that Carter converted. Wales lock Ian Evans limped off as Carter lined up the conversion, while Byrne required treatment before he was declared fit to resume. Newport Gwent Dragons forward Luke Charteris replaced Evans, then Gatland replaced both half-backs, sending on Dwayne Peel and James Hook. Carter increased New Zealand's advantage to 10 points following a Gethin Jenkins scrum infringement, and the final quarter was all about Wales not imploding.
The All Blacks, without remotely hitting top gear, knew they had done enough and were able to play with a lot more freedom. Evans, meanwhile, was diagnosed as suffering from knee ligament damage, and there was no way back for a Welsh side that had given its all - yet ultimately fallen short.
Carter booted his fifth penalty as full-time approached, then converted an injury-time effort by Kaino, and Wales could not wait to exit stage right.
Wales: Byrne, Halfpenny, Shanklin, Roberts, S. Williams, S. Jones, Cooper, Jenkins, Rees, A. Jones, A. Jones, Evans, R. Jones, M. Williams, Powell.
Replacements: Hook for S. Jones (59), Peel for Cooper (59), Yapp for Jenkins (79), Charteris for Evans (57), D. Jones for Powell (75). Not Used: Hibbard, Bishop.
New Zealand: Muliaina, Rokocoko, Kahui, Nonu, Sivivatu, Carter, Cowan, Tialata, Mealamu, Woodcock, Thorn, Williams, Kaino, McCaw, So'oialo.
Replacements: Weepu for Cowan (55), Afoa for Tialata (49). Not Used: Elliot, Boric, Reid, Donald, Toeava.
Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa).
Assistant Referees: D. Pearson (Eng) C. Wessels (SA)