Carter the heart of the new Blacks

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The Independent Online

A dark hour precedes every dawn and, for Wales, this narrow defeat against the All Blacks - their 17th in a row - has to be regarded as their darkest hour: they got so close yet were just held off. At least it means dawn is arriving.

A dark hour precedes every dawn and, for Wales, this narrow defeat against the All Blacks - their 17th in a row - has to be regarded as their darkest hour: they got so close yet were just held off. At least it means dawn is arriving.

It would have been the first Wales victory over New Zealand since 1953. But while the All Blacks have dominated this fixture ever since, this one was no pushover. Wales went down proudly, with all their guns blazing. And while it did not quite match the heroics of their World Cup clash of last year, it still had the sell-out crowd on its feet.

New Zealand are in the throes of reconstruction, but on this evidence the raw materials are in plentiful supply. This was anything but a weak All Blacks team.

Nor, mind you, was it a weak Wales either. The All Blacks still won, however, and they looked impressive, even when faced by such a bunch of heart-warming scrappers. They have the personnel: from the debutant scrum-half Piri Weepu, through the relative rookie Daniel Carter at fly-half, to the outside-centre Casey Laulala, they have the link men to launch their potent back three. As for the forwards, once they had settled down they looked formidable enough. A few more Tests and they will be building huge platforms of possession for their backs.

However, there was something a little rigid about the All Blacks in the early stages, as if they were reacting by rote. When a set move stuttered or stalled they appeared to be at a loss. And the coaching team must have been seriously worried in the opening few scrums when Wales were able to disrupt the All Blacks' put-in while holding steady enough on their own.

Gradually, the tourists restored some semblance of order. They even came close to shoving Wales off their own ball later on, but that first quarter was a curiosity with the New Zealanders struggling to find their feet. The surface certainly looked greasy, but Wales were able to skate nimbly over it during the same stretch of play. It needed some off-the-cuff stuff to bring the All Blacks to life. And, from the moment Doug Howlett came off his right wing looking for the ball, midway through the first half, they were kick-started into action.

Quickly they emerged from their collective case of shellshock and hit back hard. Punching repeatedly at the Welsh defence to find a way through, the ball eventually flitted through the hands of Carter, Aaron Mauger and Mils Muliaina before the prolific Joe Rokocoko demonstrated to the 78,000 crowd his scorching pace as he sprinted over for the 26th try of his career.

That speed of delivery was evident when they scored their second try through the full-back Muliaina. But despite the clinical finishing, the All Blacks still found themselves on the back foot too often for their liking. Rokocoko may have revealed his attacking abilities, but Tom Shanklin caused the Kiwis' Smokin' Joe no end of trouble every time he took the ball up the Welsh right.

Still, Rokocoko had the last word with his second try. The move started when the powerful Weepu wrestled the ball off Dwayne Peel and it was worked back and out wide. Finally it came to Rokocoko, who sliced through the Welsh backs with a searing, 50-yard mazy run.

Meanwhile, in the furnace of the game where the battle for possession was white hot, the ferocious foraging of the Wales flanker Colin Charvis and his fierce battles with the rugged Rodney So'oialo also caught the eye.

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