Rugby Union: All Black cloud cast by Brooke

Tim Glover at Wembley sees the Welsh overwhelmed by Kiwi awareness
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The Independent Online
It was a long way to travel for a hammering. At least at Cardiff Arms Park they could have had a pint in their local before checking their lottery ticket in the comfort of their own home.

Never have so many Welshmen crossed the Severn since the Depression and never have so many made the return journey under a black cloud. Wales were made to feel at home down Wembley way, with the London Welsh Male Voice Choir setting the standard for 76,000 voices.

It was a surreal note, but reality was soon restored. The All Blacks may have been taken aback by the atmosphere at Old Trafford but Wembley may as well have been Wellington, such was their mastery, not to mention acclimatisation. They were disappointed to beat England in Manchester last week by three tries to one. A mere aberration.

Wales genuinely believed they had half a chance although not all of the punters shared their optimism. Some big gamblers waged bets of pounds 1,000 a point on New Zealand - and that was with Wales being given a 38-point start. Tough luck.

The All Blacks, potentially one of the best sides in their rich history according to the coach John Hart, have superstars in key positions: Justin Marshall at scrum-half, Andrew Mehrtens at stand-off, Jonah Lomu and Jeff Wilson on the wings and Christian Cullen at full-back.

Yesterday they also had Robin Brooke. Cullen's hat-trick may not have been in the Geoff Hurst class on this wonderful ground but the full-back was nevertheless back to his dynamic best.

Brooke, though, put in a performance as conspicuous as one of Wembley's twin towers. It wasn't that the Auckland lock dominated the line-out. He didn't. In fact, in that department Wales were well served by Gareth Llewellyn and Mike Voyle. But Brooke stands apart from the archetypal second row forward because he has skills more associated with a three- quarter than a member of the so-called engine room.

Cullen owed two of his tries to Brooke's brilliant awareness. In the 32nd minute, Brooke sold a dummy in midfield - what on earth was he doing there? - before slipping a pass which gave Cullen the freedom of Wembley. Five minutes into the second half, he again displayed magnificent touch, taking and giving a pass in exemplary fashion, Cullen once again the beneficiary.

Wales's defence, for the most part at full stretch, could not be criticised. Some of the tackling was immense, as well as relentless, but then the same could be said of the All Blacks.

On a basic level, the most obvious difference between the sides was highlighted by the battering Kevin Morgan received. In the space of a few minutes, the Pontypridd full-back was flattened by Lomu, who had a weight advantage of approximately 10 stone, and then by Cullen. Morgan, to his credit, was still standing at the end.

Despite the scoreline, Wales saw plenty of the ball but made handling errors and knock-ons, repeatedly giving New Zealand the opportunity to counter- attack, which they invariably did to devastating effect.

The All Blacks ran through their entire repertoire, including a drop goal, his third in international rugby for the No 8, Zinzan Brooke, but not before Nigel Walker scored Wales's first try against the All Blacks for nine years. Perhaps that alone was worth the pounds 3.90 toll fee to cross the Severn.

Wales were handicapped by a facial injury to one of their hard men, Scott Gibbs, early in the game. At one point they also lost, albeit briefly, Gibbs's midfield partner, Allan Bateman.

Arwel Thomas, who came on while Bateman was being patched up, never saw the ball although he was adjudged to be offside when pursuing a kick from Robert Howley. It was probably just as well that Erickson penalised Thomas, for Howley's kick had been safely gathered by Lomu and a collision between the giant All Black wing and Thomas, who is even more of a slip of a lad than Morgan, does not bear thinking about.

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