More humiliation for Hansen

New Zealand 55 Wales 3
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The Independent Online

Wales's status as a second-rate rugby nation was cruelly underlined once again by the All Blacks, as they put an encouraging Welsh scoreline against the Wallabies the previous weekend into proper perspective with a crushing eight- try victory in Hamilton.

While everyone in Wales was fearing a backlash from the New Zealanders following their defeat by England in Auckland, they were hoping for a bit more fight from the men in red. A sixth-minute Stephen Jones penalty may have given the tourists a shock lead for 14 minutes, but after that it was back to the more typical "men against boys" way of this fixture over much of the past 50 years.

Welsh matches against New Zealand used to be among the highlights of the world rugby fixture list. These days they are no more than training runs for the All Blacks, who can confidently put a "W" in the box alongside their Rugby World Cup assignment against Wales in Sydney on 2 November.

Quite where this defeat leaves the Wales coach, Steve Hansen, in the eyes of Welsh fans, or his former New Zealand admirers, is debatable. He has now won four times in 17 Test starts since taking over from Graham Henry in February 2002, and he has also presided over two defeats at the hands of the Barbarians.

Yet still he remains committed to his near-£200,000-a-year contract, which is due to run to the end of the 2004 Six Nations campaign, and the Welsh Rugby Union appear equally enamoured with the progress he claims to be making with his players.

Whatever the progress, this remains the worst Welsh team on record, with eight successive Test defeats, and Hansen's is quite comfortably the worst record of any of the 14 coaches Wales have used before him. No wonder Hansen keeps on urging everyone in Wales to stop worrying about the scoreboard. In the wake of this record defeat at the hands of the All Blacks he was at it again, as he described the Hamilton defeat as being "part of the plan".

"I'm pretty proud of our blokes and their ability to hang on in the game. The bottom line is that they were beaten by a far better side, but they never gave up," Hansen said. "Fifty-five is a lot of points, I guess, but it could have easily been 155 with all the ball the All Blacks had. You've just got to forget about the scoreboard - it's happened and we can't control it any longer.

"We've just got to go away and ask ourselves why they scored all those points. We're not going to get better if we keep playing the minnows of world rugby just to feed our own egos and say that we've had a win. Somewhere along the line we've got to rub shoulders with the best so that we can be the best. It's painful, but that's the way it is."

The pain for Martyn Williams's side began as early as the 23rd minute, when Jerry Collins poleaxed Colin Charvis with a tackle that summed up the difference in desire and approach between he two sides. Charvis went to hospital after being taken off on a stretcher, while Williams ended up with eight stitches in a facial wound.

The hurt on the scoreboard began once Doug Howlett had sped away for his 19th international try midway through the first half, and new boy Daniel Carter had opened his Test account with the first of six conversions. By the end of his first cap, the Canterbury centre had helped himself to 20 points.

That try ended any real Welsh resistance, and from there on it was totally one-way traffic. Carter kicked a penalty and another conversion, after Carlos Spencer had crossed from close range, and the All Blacks found themselves leading 17-3 at the break.

The second half became exhibition stuff as six more tries flowed, including a late double from the new wing sensation, Joe Rokocoko. Having only had the ball in their hands nine times in the first half, Wales saw it even less in the second and, when they did manage to get hold of it, it merely became a hot potato.

The gulf between the two sides in terms of skill, physicality, commitment and determination was as wide as ever. If Welsh fans are ever going to see a return to the glory days of their three much-heralded, and long past, victories over the All Blacks - in 1905, 1935 and 1953 - then the attitude of a whole rugby nation is going to have to change, harden and become far more honest and industrious.

New Zealand 55
Tries: Howlett, Spencer, Carter, Meeuws
Mealamu, Umaga, Rokocoko 2
Cons: Carter 6
Pen: Carter

Wales 3
Pens: S Jones

Half-time: 17-3 Attendance: 27,500

New Zealand: M Muliaina (Auckland); D Howlett (Auckland), T Umaga (Wellington), D Carter (Canterbury), J Rokocoko (Auckland); C Spencer (Auckland), S Devine (Auckland); C Hoeft (Canterbury), K Mealamu (Auckland), K Meeuws (Auckland), C Jack (Canterbury), A Williams (Auckland), R Thorne (Canterbury, capt), M Holah (Waikato), J Collins (Wellington). Replacements: B Thorn (Canterbury) for A Williams, 48.

Wales: R Williams (Cardiff); M Jones (Llanelli), J Robinson (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), T Shanklin (Saracens); S Jones (Llanelli), G Cooper (Bath); I Thomas (Llanelli), R McBryde (Llanelli), G Jenkins (Pontypridd), G Llewellyn (Neath), R Sidoli (Pontypridd), D Jones (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), M Williams (Cardiff, capt).

Replacements: M Davies (Pontypridd) for McBryde, 51; C Wyatt (Llanelli) for M Williams, 29-40, for G Llewellyn, 57; J Thomas (Swansea) for Charvis, 23; D Peel for Cooper, 76; C Sweeney for Robinson, 68; G Henson for Shanklin, 76.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).