Rugby Union: Wales struggle for breath

Wales 7 New Zealand 42
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The Independent Online
There is only England left and the All Blacks can hardly wait for Twickenham next Saturday. "I'm looking forward to it a great deal," John Hart said, trying hard not to lick his lips at the prospect. He sounded like a serial predator.

Wales gave it everything and yet were still badly mauled. "I was delighted with our performance," Hart added. "It was a far more intense and accurate effort. Maybe we were a bit loose in the second half but that's quibbling." What more could be possibly want, apart clearly, from England's head on a plate?

It took New Zealand a long time to appoint Hart as coach and in the two years he has been in charge, their Test record is played 21, won 20. This year alone they have won 11 out of 11. "It's been a long, difficult year," Hart said. "We have been under a lot of pressure to perform, but this is an incredibly happy team. We are not thinking about home just yet."

Wales left nothing to chance. Apart from listening to a moving address on facing adversity from Simon Weston, the Welsh Guardsman who suffered severe burns in the Falklands campaign, they acclimatised themselves to Wembley's way by listening to tapes of previous big matches there. When they return to the old stadium for the Five Nations' Championship in the new year, they will listen to the noise generated on Saturday by a crowd of 76,000, the biggest choir ever assembled.

"We will get better as a result of this experience," Kevin Bowring, the Wales coach, said. "Perhaps we tried too hard early on to play an expansive game but I'm proud of the effort put in. We played to the edge of our skill levels."

It is a disturbing thought that Wales tackled almost to the point of exhaustion and heroically stuck to their game plan yet it was nowhere near good enough. It has got to the stage where it would be interesting to see the All Blacks play somebody like the Green Bay Packers. At least there would be a sense of intrigue.

When Wales were under pressure which was most of the time, there was an air of desperation. When the All Blacks were under pressure they were still in almost total control, displaying an air of calm authority. Another significant difference is that whereas Wales committed themselves totally to the rucks, the All Blacks were content to employ three or four forwards. When Wales managed to breach the first line of defence, the pressure was suffocating.

If England have a problem with Mike Catt at stand-off, the same could be said of Wales concerning Neil Jenkins. The Lions employed him as a full-back on their tour to South Africa, a role he is reluctant to fill for his country. On Saturday he was unable to bring the best out of a potent threequarter line, although he barely had time to draw breath.

Nigel Walker spent most of the game tenaciously defending against Jeff Wilson and, on the one occasion he received the ball in attack, he scored. It needed a touch of genius to pick the lock and Jenkins failed to supply it.

At times the All Blacks used what looked like a blitz, American football- style. On other occasions the match took on shades of rugby league, with defenders lined across the field. This became more apparent when the crowd's excitement was aroused, not necessarily by a fine passage of play, but by a heavy-duty tackle - and there were plenty of them.

There was little wrong with the Welsh line-out, Gareth Llewellyn having a big game, but it is difficult to justify the exclusion of the Quinnell brothers, Scott and Craig, who are not only huge, but hugely powerful.

Talking of brothers, the All Blacks were blessed by the presence of the Brooke boys, Zinzan and his younger brother, Robin. Harlequins have paid a fortune to sign Zinzan, the No 8 whose party piece is to embarrass stand- offs by dropping goals from all over the place, but they may have got the wrong Brooke.

No lock forward in the game displays the all-round skills of Robin. He is much more than a pack horse and epitomises the All Blacks' idea of a modern forward. His contribution to the second and third tries by Christian Cullen was outstanding, his vision, touch and judgement worthy of any gifted threequarter.

Yesterday the Kiwis moved to Leicester, where they play England `A' tomorrow, but Hart is focused on the re-match against England. It will be Zinzan's last Test and, if his knee is up to it, probably Sean Fitzpatrick's.

"What impressed me about Wales," Hart said, "is that they didn't hype it up, they just concentrated on the game." He might have added that they did not mess with the haka, they did not punch Justin Marshall and they did not do a lap of honour.

Wales: Try Walker; Conversion Jenkins. New Zealand: Tries Cullen 3, Randell, Marshall; Conversions Mehrtens 4; Penalties Mehrtens 2; Dropped goal Z Brooke.

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), N Thomas (Bath), G Jones (Cardiff, capt). 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 (Auckland), T Randell (Otago), Z Brooke (Auckland), J Konfeld (Otago). Replacements: S Fitzpatrick (Auckland) for Hewitt, 56; M Allen (Manawatu) for Brown, 58.

Referee: W Erickson (Australia).

l New Zealand have made four changes to their midweek side for their final tour match, against England `A' at Leicester tomorrow. Centre Alama Ieremia, scrum-half Mark Robinson, prop Gordon Slater and No 8 Steve Surridge will replace Jeremy Stanley, Jon Preston, Con Barrell and Aaron Hopa. Sean Fitzpatrick has not been named, suggesting that he will lead the All Blacks against England at Twickenham.

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