A shabby spat over the New Zealand haka was the preamble to a savage secateuring of Welsh hopes by the All Blacks, the world's No 1 ranked team. Five tries by the tourists, including a hat-trick by the irrepressible wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, made for Wales's only defeat of the autumn series.
Boos rang around the stadium before kick-off as it dawned on the capacity crowd there was going to be no haka. The Wales team had wanted to respond to the traditional war-dance by singing their national anthem, a change of the normal running order which New Zealand acceded to on their 100th anniversary visit a year ago but refused to entertain again. How it got to the stage where all a bemused, unhappy crowd got was a flash of a dressing-room haka on the stadium's video screens is a question for the respective Unions to answer.
No doubt attended the brilliant All Blacks, odds-on favourites for next year's World Cup, who completed in style a tour designed to prepare them for that tournament and which had featured emphatic wins over England and France twice.
"We played our best game of the tour, for 80 minutes," said Graham Henry, the New Zealand head coach. "The Welsh tried to play and we didn't get that [from France] in Paris and Lyon, and only a wee bit at Twickenham."
It is accepted wisdom not to kick to the All Blacks' back three; sadly for Wales their full-back Kevin Morgan bucked it as early as the fourth minute, when he punted the ball down the throat of Rico Gear and the wing stormed into the Welsh half. It was recycled from right to left, Wales's Tom Shanklin missed a tackle on Sivivatu and a simple scoring pass inside sent Luke McAlister to the line. Dan Carter converted for a 7-0 lead and a long evening beckoned for Wales.
New Zealand undermined themselves briefly just after the mid-point of the first half. Wales were trailing 16-3 after three Carter penalties followed by one in reply from Stephen Jones, when they transgressed at a ruck in front of their posts. Bizarrely the New Zealand captain, Richie McCaw, who kicks the ball about as often as Gavin Henson misses a hairdresser's appointment, booted it towards the corner. It went dead. McCaw had been warned by referee David Pearson to keep it clean at the breakdown. Just after that, Byron Kelleher, the All Black scrum-half, knocked on behind a line-out.
Signs of New Zealand weakness? More like crumbs of comfort for Wales. Before the interval Sivivatu had scored twice to take his remarkable strike rate to 13 tries in 12 Tests. The second of them was a counter-attack as predictable from these All Blacks as it appears to be unstoppable. Duncan Jones was turned over in midfield and McAlister and Conrad Smith ran hard and straight before Sivivatu's finish.
Wales were not playing particularly poorly. They passed and handled well, and won their line-outs. Ryan Jones at No 8 thumped his men back in the tackle. But making a tackle was very nearly an exercise in futility, such was the speed and efficacy of the New Zealand offloads.
Carter kicked a 40-metre penalty two minutes into the second half, New Zealand led 31-3, and Wales sent on Gethin Jenkins, Alix Popham and James Hook notably, ahead of Henson as fresh legs. Hook made a rousing incursion into the previously foreign land of the New Zealand 22 though, inevitably, Wales lost possession at a ruck. McCaw then outlived Pearson's patience, sent to the sin bin after 56 minutes for killing the ball. Against a seven-man pack, Wales produced a magnificent line-out drive after Ian Gough's catch to create a try for Martyn Williams converted by Hook.
But it was brief respite. From the restart Nick Evans, on for Carter, broke the Wales defence and handed Sivivatu his hat-trick at the posts. Evans converted and McCaw returned with Wales no better off. New Zealand's replacement hooker, Andrew Hore, was shown a yellow card but a tired Martyn Williams conceded a penalty try on 74 minutes and Evans added the conversion.
The All Blacks ended the calendar year with a record reading: played 13 Tests, won 12. Since the last Wales victory in this fixture in 1953, the All Blacks have won 19 in a row, and in a dozen meetings in the last 20 years New Zealand have averaged a smidgen under 44 points a match.
"I wouldn't say it was a nightmare, it was a lesson," said Wales's coach, Gareth Jenkins. "Sometimes it's important to get exposed so you learn your lessons. This was always going to be the game to tell us exactly where we are." Which is ninth in the world, according to the International Rugby Board.
Wales: K Morgan (Dragons); M Jones (Llanelli Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), S Parker, S Williams (both Ospreys); S Jones (capt), D Peel (both Scarlets); D Jones (Ospreys), R Thomas (Blues), A Jones (Ospreys), I Gough (Dragons), I Evans, J Thomas, R Jones (all Ospreys),M Williams (Blues). Replacements: M Rees (Scarlets) for R Thomas, 71; G Jenkins (Blues) for D Jones, 46; A W Jones (Ospreys) for Evans, 55; A Popham (Scarlets) for R Jones, 46; M Phillips (Blues) for Peel, 62; J Hook (Ospreys) for Shanklin, 46; G Henson (Ospreys) for Parker,71.
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Chiefs); R Gear (Crusaders), C Smith (Hurricanes), L McAlister (Blues), S Sivivatu (Chiefs); D Carter (Crusaders), B Kelleher (Chiefs); N Tialata (Hurricanes), A Oliver, C Hayman (both Highlanders), K Robinson (Chiefs), A Williams (Blues), J Collins, R So'oialo (both Hurricanes), R McCaw (Crusaders, capt). Replacements: A Hore (Hurricanes) for Oliver, 48; T Woodcock (Blues) for Tialata, 34; J Ryan (Highlanders) for A Williams, 62; R Thorne (Crusaders) for So'oialo, 62; P Weepu (Hurricanes) for Kelleher, 48; N Evans (Highlanders) for Carter, 62; M Nonu (Hurricanes) for Sivivatu, 75.
Referee: D Pearson (England).Reuse content