New Zealand may well have lost their aura of invincibility in other arenas of world rugby, but in Cardiff they still seem invincible as ever. In extending their staggering period of dominance over Wales to 56 years and 21 Tests, the All Blacks forced Warren Gatland to seek a target elsewhere. The home coach duly turned his anger on the referee.
The Kiwi accused Craig Joubert of favouring the favourites. "It's trying to change referees' opinions about not wanting to referee an upset – referees don't want to be involved in upsets," said Gatland, who spent a portion of the build-up querying the All Blacks's "infallibility". "The frustrating thing was not getting some 50-50 calls. We're not asking for any favours, you just want some calls to go your way. If that high tackle had been at the other end, it would have been a penalty and a yellow card."
Gatland certainly had a point about Dan Carter's unpunished hauling down of Martin Roberts as Wales tried to launch their unlikely comeback with 10 minutes to go. The Welsh camp later revealed they want the fly-half cited. And fair enough, too. But it was hard to see where else the South African official had ruled outrageously for the visitors. In truth, Wales's defeat was all to do with their own failings and very little to with Joubert. They were brave and that's all they were. What should have made it all the more humbling for them was that New Zealand did not even play that well.
But then, you don't always have to be at your best when you have Carter pulling your strings. In kicking 14 points, he came within two points of surpassing Andrew Mehrtens as New Zealand's leading points-scorer.
He deserves the mantle, if only for his bravery in playing with a calf injury. Carter carried out Graham Henry's gameplan with a cold and calculating authority.
For 40 minutes New Zealand played it with caution, kicking everything, tackling everything and generally draining Welsh passion. When the hwyl had run dry, when the spirit had weakened, they decided to cut free, commanding territory and possession with brutal effect. The All Blacks pulled clear and should have prevailed by an awful lot more. That they did not was down to a courageous Welsh fightback that could have, perhaps should have, earned a draw.
Alas, Alun Wyn Jones, the Lions lock, did not have faith in his legs getting him to the line in a madcap dash as the seconds counted down. Half a century of failure acted like cement in his boots. Jones came up short, and ultimately so did Wales.
After a strange opening half which saw Stephen Jones and Carter trade penalties, New Zealand came out and applied studs to jugulars, dominating at the breakdown. The ensuing 25 minutes were spent almost exclusively in the Welsh half. Carter inched them ahead with his third penalty, but by now the game was desperate for a try. It came when the wing Zac Guildford showed stunning power in charging on deep into the 22 with half the Welsh defence on his back. It allowed the hooker, Andrew Hore, to crash over. When Carter added the extras the contest seemed as good as dead.
Yet that was not reckoning with the Welsh revival in those thrilling final minutes. By then Carter had converted his fourth penalty and New Zealand had twice heard the TV official turn down tries when their pack had bundled over the line. Despite the Welshmen's inferiority in the second spell, Jones managed to bring them to within a score with two nerveless penalties. They could not possibly rescue something – could they?
Shane Williams showed what was possible when skipping through and almost putting in Roberts. Carter's foul should have been picked up but the injustice only spurred on the red shirts. Jones the lock picked up an interception in his 22 and set off in pursuit of the whitewash. It was a classic case of "run Forest, run", but his self-belief let him down. The big man panicked, threw a pass nowhere, the All Blacks scrambled back and so they hung on.
Yes, New Zealand might have only won by a whisper. But few could deny it was still a long whisper. Gatland's reaction merely clouded the real issue. Wales had come off second best. Yet again.
Wales J Hook; L Halfpenny, T Shanklin, J Roberts, S Williams; S Jones, G Cooper (M Roberts, 55); G Jenkins, M Rees (H Bennett, 60), P James (Duncan Jones, 60), A W Jones, L Charteris (B Davies, 66), A Powell (Dafydd Jones, 66), M Williams, R Jones (capt).
New Zealand M Muliaina; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, Z Guildford; D Carter, B Leonard (J Cowan, 50); W Crockett (O Franks, 60), A Hore, N Tialata, B Thorn, J Eaton (T Donnelly, 55), J Kaino, R McCaw, K Read.
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).Reuse content