Tana's army spear the bleeding hearts

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The Independent Online

At the Millennium Stadium, whatever it says on your shirt, whatever it reads on your betting slip, there are moments on days like this when the overwhelming sight of All Black genius makes it almost impossible not to laugh out loud, so rhythmic is their might, so inexorable is their athleticism.

And as the Welshman cried without and the rugby fan giggled within last night, the Grand Slam champions were contenting themselves with the knowledge that their illusory magnificence had been exposed by something very special here.

Until Tony Woodcock's straight-to-earth assault on Brent Cockbain it had been spotlessly special, too, as the only thing that Tana's army seemed inclined to spear was a bleeding Welsh heart which will now take some repairing.

Sure, Wales were missing at least six first-teamers and they did have only four days to get ready in comparison to New Zealand's entire Tri-Nations of preparation. But these were mere truths, and could never be legitimate excuses. Not when the class divide was this gaping, when the difference in pace, power and instinct was this glaring.

Mike Ruddock's pre-match exhortation had been simply for his boys "to compete", but in the event, after a first half when heroic defence tried in vain to mask obvious deficiencies, even this humble prayer was left battering at the stadium's closed roof. The reports will say that the writing was writ large as early in the 10th minute, when Daniel Carter slotted the first points of another personal odyssey.

But, as ever in All Black history, the sharpened quill was out before pea had even hit plastic. The haka was first performed in these parts in 1905, on a strip of Cardiff Arms Park grass not 50 yards from this one, and a local journalist described it thus: "The Colonials stood in the centre of the field and sang a weird war cry."

A hundred years on and Wales, on the evidence of yesterday's shameless attempt to steal the All Blacks' familiar opening thunder by singing their national anthem and a hymn after the haka (what was this, a rugby international or an eisteddfod?), are no closer to understanding this "weird war cry", just as they are no closer to understanding what goes in the aftermath of that statement of murderous intent.

It is a damning statistic, that dared only be whispered in the locality of anyone proud of their so-called "national sport", that the Welsh football team have beaten Brazil more recently than their rugby team have the oval-ball equivalent. The number of fruitless years now stands at 52 and the run of defeats at 18. Don't expect any streak-breaker soon.

There are those such as Gareth Thomas and Stephen Jones who will disagree, of course, but even these courageous interrupters of the inevitable would be hard pressed to see the likes of Rico Gear - "Fifth" as they call him in Nelson Bays; think of Dougie Howlett not even in the 22 - and imagine a day when it might be different. How they lost by only a point to this lot a year ago was looking more impressive by the minute, by the pass, by the try. For it wasn't that Wales played particularly badly, although, as ever, a few legends were soon querying the tactics. Ruddock wouldn't be a professional coach if he didn't watch the tapes and find plenty still to work on.

The selection of the stuttering and seemingly immobile scrum-half Michael Phillips - more Barratt Homes than Terry Holmes - only highlighted the urgent necessity to get Dwayne Peel fit again, the anarchic line-out depressingly built on perhaps the only negative of the glorious Six Nations campaign, and the turnovers mounted almost as quickly as the points. If the visitors had taken all of their chances(with Byron Kelleher Peter Crouch-like in his profligacy) then 50 points would easily have been breached.

No, this wasn't about Wales failings as much as New Zealand brilliance. And short of a trans-hemisphere invasion there is not much you can do about that.

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