Umaga the history man conjures elegant response

Captain puts the moans firmly out of mind
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The Independent Online

Which brings us rather neatly to Tana Umaga, the incum-bent of Gallaher's role, and who since his arrival on British soil has just about managed the barest utterance of regret over O'Driscoll-gate.

Perhaps unwisely, we pondered on what effect that incident would have on the New Zealand centre. Not because he is an acknowledged miscreant. More because this veteran of 72 Tests and the first man of Samoan heritage to captain the All Blacks is a man normally associated with humility and dignity. His esteem has, however, plummeted with the force of his victim from the moment he combined with Keven Mealamu to thrust Brian O'Driscoll head-first into the ground soon after the start of the First Test against the Lions.

There were voices of discontent among the 70,000 here yesterday, and some mirth when virtually his first act was to drop the ball, but otherwise the sense of indignation about the absence of punishment which has poisoned thinking in this hemisphere since those events four months ago was treated with the best andidote there is: a scintillating performance by Umaga and his fellow travellers. Among them the fly-half Daniel Carter was as polished and authorative - his footwork was impeccable - as he had been during the first two Lions Tests in the summer.

In some quarters, the soreness of the O'Driscoll affair will continue to fester. But somehow you imagine after yesterday's punishment of a weakened Wales, who had the temerity to insist they could improve on last year's 25-26 reverse, the focus will be rather more on the individual home nations' World Cup futures; not the Lions' past.

Oh, and lest anyone comforts themselves with the belief that this was the All Blacks at maximum, Umaga confirmed "we can do better", his only admission being that Wales' loss of six key personnel was "a big lift for us" and that, "led by Gareth [Thomas], I think they can repeat their Six Nations win".

Wales should be thankful for such charitable sentiments. They received damn all on the field. Carter is making a habit of it. Wales' Stephen Jones, in the Lions' First Test, and Jonny Wilkinson, in the Second, could barely live with him. He scored 44 points and two tries in those two appearances.

Here, he simply carried on as though oblivious of the burgeoning reputation he has created for himself at just 22. Having kicked with Wilkinson-like monotony, Carter appeared late on the try scorers-sheet, too, with the All Blacks' fourth and fifth as the visitors asserted themselves in the second half.

And this, in the opening international of the All Blacks four-match tour, from a team said by their coach Graham Henry to be here only to limber up for the World Cup in two years' time.

That should be regarded with a healthy dash of scepticism, of course, but yesterday will have certainly offered the rest something to think about with that long-term target in mind.

Earlier, the pre-match ceremonies had reflected that 1905 Test when the tradition of singing national anthems was born. That day, New Zealand performed their haka and when the Welsh team responded with "Land Of Our Fathers", the crowd spontaneously joined in. Yesterday, that format was repeated and it was a moving moment. The haka and New Zealand anthem were greeted with rapturous applause.

A century ago, the speech from Wales captain Gwyn Nicholls before the game contained the words, "There must be no hair-combing". That could have been an appropriate instruction from Ruddock to Gavin Henson, together with one to go steady on the leg-shaving - if only he had been here. But there was no Henson, suffering something as mundane as a pelvic injury rather than some combination of writer's cramp and verbal diarrhoea, which appeared more likely.

There were another five players absent from the Grand Slam side, and that placed the responsibility on those left to gird themselves and respond to Nicholls' command all those years distant - and relayed before yesterday's game by Ruddock - "Every man in possession must be cut down ball and all".

Initially, that's how it panned out. Though the early minutes were played almost exclusively in the Wales' half, they responded resourcefully. It couldn't last. Henry's men were only loosening up before Rico Gear, with the first of his three tries, began the annihilation. Carter concluded it, ensuring that on this of all dates, yesterday was less a seasonal bonfire of All Black vanities and more a funeral pyre for Wales' aspirations.



Star performer: Colin Charvis 7

After a year out of the first-choice Welsh back row, the former captain showed his authority, anticipation and handling skills are undimmed

Gareth Thomas 7

Did little wrong in his capacity as last line of defence, twice guessing right when faced with an overlap. Unlucky to be injured when tackling bravely

Kevin Morgan 5

Was shown up as a bit lightweight in the tackle when brushed aside by both Kelleher and Rokocoko. Made a couple of slick breaks, but to no avail

Mark Taylor 5

A call to arms too far for the veteran centre whose flesh was willing, as he ran gamely at the blanket defence, but too weak to make any inroads

Ceri Sweeney 4

Another, like Taylor, who owed his selection to the absence of others. Showed little subtlety and was too keen to give his views to the referee

Shane Williams 4

Twinkle-toed as ever, and totally ineffectual. Never given the slightest chance to run to any purpose with the ball and too easily brushed away

Stephen Jones 5

His kicking was as immaculate as ever from hand, but he never looked like making a break and played into the hands of the Blacks' drift defence

Michael Phillips 3

As debuts go, this was the ultimate baptism of fire. His next game will be nothing like as intense, but after this error count will there be a next game?

Duncan Jones 6

The pick of the Welsh front five, tackling hard, rucking and mauling courageously, and just about holding his own with his scrummaging

Mefyn Davies 4

Another experienced performer to succumb to pressure, gradually losing his way as the line-out throws went astray and other mistakes multiplied

Adam Jones 4

Failed to cope with any conviction with the All Blacks' scrummaging power, finding himself wheeled away at will. Replaced just after half time

Brent Cockbain 5

Never gave up trying to get into the faces of the All Black forwards and scrap for possession, but erred too often on the wrong side of the laws

Robert Sidoli 4

Also showed too much ill-discipline as the game began to seep away from Wales. His frustration had got the better of him by the last quarter

Jonathan Thomas 6

Will play worse for Wales in years to come and finish on the winning side. But when you're permanently on the back foot, your chances are limited

Michael Owen 6

Another kept engaged in a damage limitation exercise as he back-pedalled from scrum, to line-out, to breakdown. Kept his composure well


Rhys Thomas 4 Thrown on for the last 20 minutes

Chris Horsman 7 Added backbone to a tiring pack

Luke Charteris 5 Had little chance to acclimatise

Robin Sowden-Taylor 4 Replaced Charvis and then struggled

Gareth Cooper 6 Looked a more assured scrum-half

Nick Robinson 6 Showed welcome glimpses of skill

Lee Byrne 5 Did not seem fazed when called on

New Zealand

Star performer: Rico Gear 9

This gong could have gone to Jack or Carter, but the deftness, balance and deadly pace the wing showed for his hat-trick were truly sublime

Mils Muliaina 8

The last line of defence is also a most potent platform for attack and it was no surprise to see him delivering the scoring pass for two of Gear's tries

Conrad Smith 6

Couldn't make his mind up whether he was a force for good or a midfield enforcer. Twice caught jersey-pulling to narrow the options as Wales broke

Tana Umaga 7

There were a few more knock-ons and handling errors than he would have liked, but the trademark offloads eventually wreaked havoc

Joe Rokocoko 6

A quiet game by his high-octane standards as most of the action funnelled down the right towards Gear. Came inside in search of the ball

Daniel Carter 9

The pre-match hype that coaches had worked out how to stop him playing was just that: hype. Two tries and 26 points later Wales are none the wiser

Byron Kelleher 5

Ever the Romantic, Byron vaulted and stumbled in equal measure. Spoiled his own superb first-half break by going for the line with Umaga clear

Neemia Tialata 7

His Test debut only lasted 50 minutes, but the power and bulk he brought to proceedings unhinged Adam Jones and the rest of the Welsh front row

Anton Oliver 6

A veteran clearly nearer the end of his international career than the start who plays every Test as if it might be his last. Streetwise and nuggety

Carl Hayman 8

The outstanding scrummager on the park, and it is to Duncan Jones's credit that he did not buckle. Hayman has added a huge dimension to his pack

Chris Jack 9

A towering display by the game's top all-round second-row. His demolition of the Welsh line-out was masterful, as was his work at the breakdown

James Ryan 6

Maybe he was keeping the shirt warm for Ali Williams, but this tiro lock looks like being around for a long time. Particularly sharp in the loose

Jerry Collins 7

A bruiser-spoiler first, yet also a gifted handler-runner. Every side needs a tidier-up who is almost unnoticed - not very likely with his blond rinse

Chris Masoe 6

Quiet start to his Test career in terms of being seen with the ball in hand, but never missed a tackle and kept snapping at the heels of the Welsh

Rodney So'ialo 8

A powerhouse of a No 8 who is fast becoming an immovable object in defence and an irresistible force in attack. Tackled and ran ferociously


Andrew Hore 5 On briefly to relieve a tiring Oliver

Tony Woodcock 5 Blotted copybook with spear tackle

Richie McCaw 6 Stretched his legs for 15 minutes

Jimmy Cowan 6 Neat interlude after Kelleher's exit

Leon MacDonald 6 Tidied up well behind his own line

Not used: Angus MacDonald, Ma'a Nonu

Paul Trow