Rampant Kiwis step up the challenge

Wounded Wales torn apart in Cardiff but Cook Islands and Lebanon bow out in satisfying style
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The Independent Online

New Zealand strode boldly into the quarter-finals of the Lincoln Financial World Cup, where their chances must be infinitely brighter than the home side they overpowered in Cardiff. The worrying thing for teams still destined to meet them along the way is that they have by no means peaked yet.

New Zealand strode boldly into the quarter-finals of the Lincoln Financial World Cup, where their chances must be infinitely brighter than the home side they overpowered in Cardiff. The worrying thing for teams still destined to meet them along the way is that they have by no means peaked yet.

"I'm happy with the result, but we can certainly improve on that," said their dissatisfied coach, Frank Endacott. "Ball control was very low and their defence wasn't as good as it should be at times."

What he did not say, but could have done without any argument, was that his developing Kiwis were still far too good for their hosts. To a pessimist, Wales were up against it from the moment they announced the team without their hugely influential hooker Keiron Cunningham, who has an ankle injury to go with long-standing back and hamstring ailments.

"Much as he wanted to play, we couldn't risk it," said the Wales coach, Clive Griffiths. "Today was a historic occasion; next week is the really important one for us."

When you only have a limited number of players of international class, the loss of Cunningham is hard to bear, but it was no excuse for some of the Welsh handling in the opening stages, the closing of the Millennium Stadium roof not appearing to help them at all.

One of their numerous errors, a knock-on by Dave Whittle, was immediately punished, Stacey Jones scooting diagonally from the scrum base to send Lesley Vainikolo over. Other invitations were spurned until Henry Paul's pass sent Craig Smith away. Although Paul Sterling overhauled the supporting Richard Swain, the Kiwis moved the ball out rapidly for Willie Talau to score. Paul followed that with a spectacular solo effort, ignoring the shouts of men in support and justifying his single-mindedness by going over.

Wales' only bright moment came with a try of the highest class, Hefin O'Hare progressing on the left and Anthony Sullivan sending the ball inside for Ian Watson to touchdown.

It was a brief respite, with Richie Barnett and Ruben Wiki claiming further New Zealand tries before the break.

Whittle, such a hard-working forward for Wales in this tournament, was taken off in a neck brace and then to hospital at the start of the second half, something that appeared to affect the Kiwis as badly as the home side. It took them 15 minutes to score again, although when they did it was again a bit special, Vainikolo taking Barnett's pass and going 80 yards.

Ten minutes later, the ball was shuttled along the line for Tonie Carroll to score and another long-range effort, this time from Ali Lauiti'iti, kept the score ticking up.

Wales failed to get to the bounce of Tasesa Lavea's high kick and allowed Barnett to grab his second. The biggest crowd for a rugby league match in Wales since the war - although still not enough to quarter fill the Millennium Stadium - did have something to cheer before the end, Iestyn Harris getting his pass to Paul Atcheson for one try and Anthony Farrell grounding a loose ball for another. It could not disguise the extent to which Wales had been outclassed by a New Zealand team far from its best, but for whom Nigel Vagana went over and Vainikolo completed his hat-trick in injury time.

The Welsh also go into the quarter-finals to play the winners of the France-based Group Three, to be determined by tonight's match between Papua New Guinea and Tonga, but they do not go there with any great grounds for confidence.

At least Cunningham should be fit for next weekend, while Bridgend have given permission for John Devereux to join the squad. With the resources available, Wales have done well to get this far, but reinforcements are badly needed.

WALES: Davies (Wigan); Sterling (Leeds), O'Hare (Huddersfield), Critchley (Leicester Tigers), Sullivan (St Helens), Harris (Leeds, capt); Briers (Warrington), Farrell (Leeds); Watson (Widnes), Whittle (Leigh), Jenkins (Hull), Morgan (Canberra), Morley (Sheffield).

NEW ZEALAND: Barnett (London Broncos, capt); N Vagana (Auckland), Carroll (Leeds), Talau (Canterbury), Vainikolo (Canberra); H Paul (Bradford), Jones (Auckland); Smith (St George-Illawara), Swain (Melbourne), Cayless (Parramatta), Rua, Kearney (both Melbourne), Wiki (Canberra).

Referee: R Smith (England).

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