All Blacks too strong for brave Wales

Wales 12 New Zealand 19
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New Zealand withstood another brave performance by Wales to continue their mastery of this fixture.

Victory at Cardiff gave the All Blacks their 22nd win in 25 games between these nations.

This time, said the optimists, hoping for a first Welsh win in the series in 56 years. But yet another generation of All Black rugby men eventually wore down a Welsh team.

However, it wasn't until the last quarter that they finally found an extra gear to wear down brave opponents. The spirited red line at last broke after 55 minutes when wing Zac Guildford took the ball close to the line and hooker Andrew Hore was driven over.

Dan Carter converted, then landed a penalty and suddenly New Zealand were clear at 19-6 although they still had to withstand a great, late rally. But for a high tackle by Carter on Welsh substitute Martin Roberts in the final minutes after a great breakaway by Shane Williams, Wales could have made it even closer.

The New Zealanders benefitted hugely from a clear policy of exploiting South African referee Craig Joubert's naivety and generosity.

In the first half hour, there was hardly a single breakdown where some New Zealand body was not on the wrong side. They committed just about every single offence known to mankind. There was offside, going in at the side, handling on the ground, not rolling away and not releasing... to name but a few. At worst, it killed the Welsh ball or at best, slowed it to a funeral pace.

The only other possible interpretation of what appeared to be a deliberate, cynical tactic was that the All Blacks, poor mites, were so weak they couldn't remain on their feet when confronted with the power of the ferocious Welsh dragons. Yeah, maybe.

And that wasn't all. The defensive line around the fringes of ruck and maul were frequently offside, thus shutting off at source Wales's attempts to find breaks close in. Joubert innocently ignored 90% of these illegalities, making Wales's task so much harder.

Given that state of affairs, Wales produced a wonderfully committed, feisty performance right to the end. They continued to tear into the New Zealanders, hurrying and hustling whenever they had the ball. Dan Carter decided that life would be a lot easier for his team without the ball, so he resorted to drilling it upfield for most of the first hour with a series of kicks. New Zealand looked rusty for a long part of this game.

Surprisingly, given what was against them, Wales did commendably well for a long time through their approach. They were fortunate to survive the most dangerous situation on the first half when Carter slid a delicate grubber kick through the on-rushing defence to the Welsh line. A try seemed inevitable but scrum half Brendon Leonard knocked on at the crucial moment. Still, Wales were penalised for handling on the ground and Carter kicked his second penalty of the opening 20 minutes.

But Wales, wonderfully inspired by the talismanic performance Ryan Jones, their captain, was giving, kept battling away. Stephen Jones twice cancelled out Carter penalties with kicks of his own to send the sides in level 6-all at half time and set up an intriguing second half.

The kicking was incessant, high kicks ahead being the preferred and at times only attacking weapon. Gradually, New Zealand upped the pace to try and make a significant breakthrough but Wales, roared on by a boisterous 74,330 crowd, clung on as long as they could.

Wales had tackled with huge commitment but it was the injection of pace in the New Zealand game that did for them. Martyn Williams deliberately knocked down a pass, offering Carter a penalty chance which he accepted. Then came the decisive acts.