Rugby Union: A gnarled warrior from the past put forward the view that New Zealand had again showed how rugby should be played. All nodded in agreement

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Normally, I watch sport with the detachment that time brings, but at Wembley on Saturday it was difficult not to be a sentimentalist. The old Welsh battle hymns, the anthem sung in perfect eye-moistening unison with a resplendent choir.

Alien territory, but ours for the day, and we made the most of it. Exposure to a defeat so predictable that bets were struck on the basis of giving Wales a 35- point start for the match against New Zealand could not dampen the spirits of those who made their way to the old stadium in north London.

Before the match I fell into conversation with some who had paused on the journey for refreshment. "No bloody chance," one said, "no bloody chance at all." Even so, the mood on a crowded train that brought us in from the shires had not darkened sufficiently to suggest acceptance of humiliation. "The best team in the world, perhaps the best New Zealand have ever put out, no shame in losing to them is there?" said a man who could recall the golden days of Gareth, Barry, Phil and Gerald. No shame at all - but humiliation was another matter.

The leaves had almost gone from the trees, the flowers were dead. The only comfort was in history and a unique occasion, the first time Wales had played a "home" international rugby fixture outside the Principality.

As a small boy in 1943 I saw the Welsh football team's first international appearance at Wembley, an experience made all the more exciting by the selection of my father's brother, Bryn Jones of Arsenal, to play against an England team that included such notables as Frank Swift and Stanley Matthews. On a wall of the small room that is referred to amusingly as my study there is a picture of Bryn shaking hands with King George VI, who is wearing an RAF uniform.

Scanning through the programme for Saturday's match I could find no mention of that, or another wartime match, in reference to Welsh sporting involvement at Wembley which includes Cardiff City's famous defeat of Arsenal in the 1927 FA Cup final (the only time the trophy has gone outside England) and a marvellous winning league try Jonathan Davies scored for Great Britain against Australia.

Such thoughts sprang to mind before the game got underway beneath a grey and dripping sky but you couldn't get away from the fact that they were being clung to as consolation.

My travelling companions included the former Aberavon and Warrington hero, Mike Nicholas, and the Lancashire cricketer, Neil Fairbrother. Nicholas thought Wales would be lucky to avoid a thrashing. "Even if Wales tackle out of their skins, get in the big hits, they won't be able to live with the All Blacks' front five," he said. No great expertise was required to work that out, so Nicholas was merely stating the obvious.

When the teams came out Fairbrother was overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the crescendo of sound that matched anything ever heard at Wembley. "I've been at lots of big matches, football and rugby," Fairbrother said afterwards, "but I've never heard anything quite like it."

As for the haka, all the Welsh players needed to do was stand off and watch while the war chant was drowned by repeated roars of "Wales, Wales, Wales."

Hardly a field of dreams, though. The Welsh coach, Kevin Bowring, is committed to attacking rugby but more than a cracking pace is required to unsettle a team of New Zealand's calibre. On the one hand disciplined and physical, on the other gifted, their fast hands reminiscent of rugby league, they were soon stretching Wales to the limit.

It took the All Blacks just four minutes to stifle the Welsh support, breaching the home defences with a try that typified their all-round superiority, a bludgeon of a move that was completed by the left flanker Taine Randell, who carried Kevin Morgan over with him.

With the All Blacks 15 points ahead after 25 minutes, a record score appeared to be miserably in prospect for everyone with Welsh affiliations.

At this stage of proceedings I was joined by a latecomer. In answer to his inquiry the only word I could think of to describe Welsh efforts up to that stage was "gallant." It was hardly out of my mouth before the mercurial Christian Cullen went over for another try. Thirty-five points of a start - they had to be kidding. They way things were shaping up 50 was more like it.

Making fewer mistakes, showing more patience in possession, Wales managed to save face in the second half and Nigel Walker's try provided something to look back on.

After the match a clutch of old Welsh internationals, including Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett, could be heard in conversation. "It's all about the basics," Bennett said. "Never mind fitness levels and organisation, the strength of the All Blacks is in their handling skills and balance." A gnarled warrior from the past put forward the view that New Zealand had again showed how rugby should be played. All nodded in agreement.

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