Wales can only regroup once more and hope for better fortune in the New Year when they are matched with mortals from the British Isles and France. None of those countries, after all, can take much comfort from their handling of the pre-Christmas rush of visitors from the southern hemisphere. The third and last Welsh win over New Zealand was at the Arms Park in 1953. That was the match when the extrovert Clem Thomas - rashly or cunningly, perhaps both - kicked to the near-empty far side of the field where the groans of anguish turned to self-congratulation as the sprinter Ken Jones gathered to score the try which sealed a 13-8 victory. Again at Cardiff in 1978, Wales finished only one point behind.
But over the last two decades the margin of New Zealand wins has spun off into the stratosphere - 20, 43, 49, 45, 25, 25. The latest figure, 35, with New Zealand scoring five tries to Wales's one, shows no upturn at all in the graph. And this in front of their largest home crowd ever of 76,000, so many of them Welsh that they completely diluted the strangeness of playing at Wembley.
The only consolation for Wales is that they had made no real errors of selection, and that the same level of commitment would bring them victory against a team less complete in their strength and talents as New Zealand. Even a founder member of the Arwel Thomas fan club, who would have preferred to see Neil Jenkins at full-back, couldn't deny that Jenkins played as fluently as anyone could expect. Though it was ironic that he turned down the only penalty he might have kicked in favour of running the ball.
The haka, where the hostilities began in the England match at Old Trafford a week before in the eyeball-to-eyeball encounter between the hookers, Richard Cockerill and Norm Hewitt, passed off peacefully. Both sides stayed as agreed on their 10 metre lines, the Welsh watching the ritual dispassionately from a distance.The first clash came soon enough at the scrum from the kick-off in a head-butting struggle between the front rows and a tangle on the ground as the scrum broke up. But though Wales got the better of that, and their midfield tackling was emphatic, they suffered from not clearing their lines, and when New Zealand spun the ball out to the right wing with a man to spare, the Welsh covering proved too thin and the All Blacks' backing-up too assiduous, for the flanker Taine Randell was already there to complete the movement for a try.
An Andrew Mehrtens penalty followed three minutes later, though just as the All Blacks threatened to run away with the game, Wales briefly set up in their opponents' half, making a series of feints at their line, and 12 minutes passed with no score. But the threat from the All Blacks was only simmering, and no sooner had Nigel Walker made the second of two try-saving tackles on Jeff Wilson, when the ball came back into the centre where, with a two-man overlap, Christian Cullen cut straight through the dispersed centre for a try by the posts.
Wales launched another and even more promising counter-attack with Neil Jenkins cleanly across the line when the ball was jerked from his hands in the act of touching it down. And again the same outcome, except that the New Zealand backs were practically queueing up when Cullen was elected to carry the ball through for his second try. Mehrtens converted both.
The Welsh tackling was admirably committed, but the problem was that it often needed two or three men to do the job, and since the All Blacks scarcely ever lost the ball in these encounters, there were wide open spaces for them to exploit. At half-time, having shirked nothing, Wales already trailed by 25 points, which was close to the full-time deficits of recent years.
There was no relief. Five minutes into the second half, Wilson and Frank Bunce were playing cat and mouse with the Welsh defence while Cullen stood back a little to deliver the coup de grace with his third consecutive try. There was ironic laughter when Justin Marshall slipped his way over beneath the Welsh posts to give Mehrtens another simple two points. And yet the hubbub from this had scarcely died down when, in another short- lived skirmish at the other end, the miracle happened. Rob Appleyard and Jonathan Humphreys rucked the ball through to release Walker to score close enough to the All Blacks posts to make the conversion a formality. The heavens didn't open, but the crowd chanted "Wales, Wales" as if to remind themselves that they were really in the game. And they had more to cheer when Leigh Davies cut through only to stumble and lose control of the ball a few metres short of the line. But Wales had still to live through some desperate moments, including a corner-flag tackle by Kevin Morgan which denied Jeff Wilson a try. And finally the gratuitous affront of Zinzan Brooke, the New Zealand No 8, casually dropping a goal from some 30 metres out.
Wales: K Morgan (Pontypridd); G Thomas (Bridgend), A Bateman (Richmond), S Gibbs (Swansea), N Walker (Cardiff); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff); C Loader (Swansea), B Williams (Richmond), D Young (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), M Voyle (Llanelli), R Appleyard (Swansea), G Jones (Cardiff, capt), N Thomas (Bath). Replacements: L Davies (Cardiff) for Gibbs, 25; J Humphreys (Cardiff) for Williams, 56; S John (Cardiff) for Loader, 74.
New Zealand: C Cullen (Manawatu); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce, W Little (both North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury, capt); C Dowd (Auckland), N Hewitt (Southland), O Brown (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), R Brooke (Northland), T Randell, J Kronfeld (both Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland). Replacements: S Fitzpatrick (Auckland) for Hewitt, 56; M Allen (Manawatu) for Brown, 58.
Referee: W Erickson (Australia).Reuse content