Carter strips away Welsh dreams

Wales 3 New Zealand 41
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The Independent Online

In this most evocative of fixtures, the All Blacks confirmed what almost everybody already knew - they are playing a game with which others are not familiar, and in Daniel Carter they have the best stand-off on the planet.

This time last year young Carter was merely a novice at Test level. He was still learning his trade when Wales ran the All Blacks to 26-25 here in a classic in the 100-year series. Yesterday he produced a virtuoso performance, contributing 26 points with two tries and seven goal-kicks out of seven. Whatever the angle he never looked like missing a kick, never looked like missing a trick. Never mind his goal-kicking, which was immaculate. His running and passing game and his kicking out of hand were equally impressive.

Wales were not surprised by this. They simply couldn't do anything about it. Carter scored even more points in the destruction of the Lions in the Second Test in Wellington last summer. He is arguably the most complete No 10 the game has ever seen, but his greatness will ultimately be measured in the World Cup in 2007.

New Zealand - who are so bloody-minded about the sport they are still claiming that Bob Deans had a try disallowed in Cardiff in 1905 - are a quarter of the way to a Grand Slam of the four home countries. Surprisingly they have only achieved it once before, in 1978, and it took an outrageous act of brinkmanship by Andy Haden at a line-out (he acted as if he had been hit by a tidal wave from the River Taff when nobody had touched him) to produce a 13-12 victory over the Welsh.

It is going to take a superhuman effort by Ireland, England and Scotland to deny Henry's men a clean sweep. A few months ago the four home countries combined got smashed in New Zealand, where Mike Ruddock, the Wales coach, opted not to get involved. He had no choice yesterday in a match that, because of its historical significance, was tacked on to the fixture list at the WRU's request. New Zealand responded as if they were doing Wales a favour.

Ruddock had only four days to prepare for this Test, not that he used it as an excuse, nor the fact that his side were missing six of their Lions. "We tried to get into our game and we couldn't," he said. "We were containing them for a spell but once they got ahead it became increasingly difficult. You can't play catch-up against this lot."

It's difficult enough playing rugby against them. Wales, who haven't beaten the All Blacks since 1953, went into this with what they thought was half a chance, for a number of reasons. Weakened or not, they had won the Six Nations Grand Slam in some style; they were at home and New Zealand were playing out of season.

The reasons to be cheerful were soon dispelled when the All Blacks hit the ground not at all tentatively, but in the manner of the mean machine which they have undoubtedly become. It is not just Carter, or the three tries from the wing Rico Gear, that did for Wales.

At the breakdown they are not only there in numbers but in considerable force. In attack they are incredibly difficult to defend against. There are skill and pace in abundance and not just from the back line. Five tries to nil tells its own story but there are other chapters.

In defence the weight of their tackling is severe and punishing, so much so that the attacker is invariably deprived of the ball. It allows the All Blacks to exploit the best kind of possession there is, the turnover, and they did this repeatedly yesterday. In the Six Nations Wales were allowed to keep the ball alive and sustain attacks. Not here.

There is another factor, and that is the Pacific Islands heritage of so many of their players that has given New Zealand an extra cutting edge. They have moved up a Gear, as in Rico.

Carter began the softening up process with a couple of early penalties and the All Blacks had to wait half an hour before they broke down Wales's heroic defence, Gear scoring the first of his three after the Welsh lost the first of a number of line-outs on their own throw.

It gave New Zealand a half-time lead of 13-3 and within eight minutes of the restart it was all over bar the shouting. Carter, with a sublime pass, put Gear over after Shane Williams had lost possession in the tackle and then Joe Rokocoko, who can usually be relied upon to round off an attack or two, this time turned creator. Again Gear was the beneficiary.

Gareth Thomas, the Wales captain who was the last line of defence, injured a leg in stemming another wave from the Black sea and departed. He was joined by Brent Cockbain in far more controversial circumstances.

The lock was turned on his head by the replacement prop Tony Woodcock, who received a warning and conceded a penalty. This was where the shouting came in. "I'd like to see it again," was Ruddock's diplomatic comment.

The stage was left to Carter and the young man from Canterbury staged a grandstand finish with two tries. In between mauling the Lions and this one-man act he was recovering from a broken leg. Daniel Carter on one leg? That might be interesting.