Rees determined to avoid whitewash
November 24, 2012
All Blacks boss Steve Hansen has questioned the decision making of Sam Warburton's Wales side © Getty Images
Matthew Rees believes Wales can avoid an autumn series whitewash if they carry a 40-year-best achievement against New Zealand into next Saturday's appointment with Australia.
Wales' 33-10 loss was their 25th in a row to the All Blacks, sixth on the bounce against all opponents and heaviest Millennium Stadium reversal for seven years. But those stark statistics should not engulf a spirited second-half showing when Wales rallied from 23 points adrift despite having a second-row forward in hospital, a prop on crutches and centre Jamie Roberts also off injured.
For the first time since 1972, they matched New Zealand on the second-half scoreboard as tries by substitute Scott Williams, who was driven over after Wales put 13 players in a 57th-minute lineout, and wing Alex Cuthbert showcased admirable resilience.
When New Zealand flicked the switch, they were dazzling, notably via brilliant wing Julian Savea, centre Conrad Smith and fly-half Aaron Cruden, whose performance meant injured superstar Dan Carter was barely missed. But given the trials and tribulations that befell Wales during a chaotic opening quarter, their response amid adversity augers well for next week's Wallabies challenge.
"Most teams would have thrown in the towel, but we got back on board and showed how good this team can be," former Wales captain Rees said. "We played the world champions in our own backyard and came out fighting, scoring some good tries.
"We've got to continue next week in the way we played in the second half against New Zealand. If we can do that, then there is no reason why we cannot get the win. For us, it's about getting back on the training field and making sure everything we do is spot on. International level is about being clinical."
Wales lost lock Bradley Davies and tighthead Aaron Jarvis inside the opening three minutes, Davies after he was floored from behind by a sickening Andrew Hore punch that should see the All Blacks hooker cited by match commissioner Mike Rafter, and Jarvis to a knee injury.
And when Roberts departed clutching an ice pack to his hip, Wales must have wondered what they had done to irk the rugby gods so much on a day when they needed everything working in their favour.
"We came out in the second half and looked quite dangerous when we kept ball and played in the right areas," Rees added. "We went through the phases, asked them questions and I think they were blowing towards the end. For us, that is a positive going into next week.
"Yet again, though, it wasn't good enough in the first half. A team like the All Blacks thrive on turnover ball, and they scored their first try from a turnover. We fed them points.
"We've got to be more clinical next week. Early on, there were a couple of penalties where, instead of going for goal, we thought we could pressurise them by going for the lineout. We let them off the hook there.
"In terms of taking the game to New Zealand we thought that if we got a chance early on then we should go for it. You don't get many opportunities in the All Blacks' 22 and if you have got a chance, you've got to take it. Probably looking back, there were six or nine points we could have taken."
New Zealand eased through the gears to score three tries in 16 minutes from flanker Liam Messam, prop Tony Woodcock and lock Luke Romano, while unflappable Cruden's 18-point haul ensured Wales were comfortably kept at a safe distance.
The challenge now facing head coach Warren Gatland and his players is to regroup for Australia following successive losses to Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand, although early fitness checks will be required this week on Jarvis, Davies, Roberts and flanker Ryan Jones, who was concussed.
In a double boost, though, Bayonne scrum-half Mike Phillips and Toulon prop Gethin Jenkins are both available after an agreement was reached with their clubs to release them for a Wallabies fixture that falls outside the International Rugby Board's autumn Test window.
"It's a massive game next week and we have got to win," said Rees, who knows another defeat would see his team drop outside the top eight of the IRB world rankings ahead of 2015 World Cup draw on December 3.
"At the end of the day, international rugby is all about winning. We knew it was going to be a tough ask against the world champions, but we had a good week of preparation and thought we had enough to get the result.
"But we know how clinical the All Blacks are and how good they are individually. We came second best, but one thing this team will not do is lie down."
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