Wales 10 New Zealand 33: Lessons as All Blacks ease to emphatic win
Wales 10 New Zealand 33: What lessons did we learn as the All Blacks expose Welsh fragility at the Millennium Stadium?
Just watching this All Blacks side is a pleasure
While our American friends across the Atlantic Ocean celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, rugby purists should be thankful for the opportunity to watch the current New Zealand team. It doesn’t matter what nationality you are, or if you’ve just lost to them, because sometimes a team comes along in a sport that transcends all rivalry. They play the game so simply abut yet so brilliantly that you just have to admire them. Much like Barcelona in football, New Zealand fall into this category and when they realise there is an opportunity to attack there isn’t a better sight. The speed of passing and their straight running lines cause absolute havoc and their off-loading in the tackle is second to none. The All Blacks never commit more men to a breakdown than absolutely necessary and those spare numbers mean they are so effective in the loose. Yes, the All Blacks do have a “dark” side with hooker Andrew Hore sure to be cited for a forearm smash into Bradley Davies but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are one of the greatest rugby sides of all time. England are up next, and while it will probably make grim viewing for English fans, we should all be grateful that we have the opportunity to watch this team.
What went wrong for Wales?
Wales never looked likely to end their losing streak against the All Blacks but the manner of defeat was the most disappointing aspect. Buoyed by the return of head coach Warren Gatland, who took the previous two games off for British and Irish Lions scouting duty, the Welsh were hampered by three injuries in the opening quarter. This would always affect their rhythm but poor decisions made things worse. Much like England, Wales seemed to have real issues when deciding on how to utlisie penalty decisions. They declined kickable opportunities in order to go for the corner but fly-half Rhys Priestland continued his poor form, wildly missing touch by kicking the ball well over the dead ball line. They conceded two tries in the first half both of which were the result of poor Welsh play. An aimless Priestland punt up-field allowed New Zealand to attack from deep and the move was finished off in the corner by Liam Messam. The second was an exact replica of a line-out move from the World Cup final last year, showing a lack of preparation by the home side. Wales did perform better in the second half and scored two tries, the first of which was the result of a 14-man line-out, but by that point, New Zealand had made several changes and were so far ahead it really didn’t matter.
Welsh personnel issues worsens
Wales have yet to be at full strength this autumn as injuries have robbed them of key personnel. Prop Adam Jones is a huge loss in the scrum and their back row hasn’t looked balanced with Dan Lydiate absence. With winger George North ruled out with a hip injury, their preparations were dealt another blow. Any team missing such a trio would be weakened and injuries early on to Davies, Jamie Roberts and Paul James caused further discrepancy. The loss of Davies was particularly galling as he was taken out off the ball by Hore, with a forearm smash – Wales didn’t have a specialist second row on the bench. While injuries have played their part, the players fit and available have failed to recapture last year’s form. Sam Warburton and Priestland have perhaps endured the biggest fall from grace as they have been poor so far this season. Warburton was not helped today as Richie McCaw was given the benefit of the doubt at the breakdown by the referee – and not the Welsh skipper. Furthermore, Gethin Jenkins’ decision to move to France last summer seems to have backfired. He is currently on the Toulon bench due to Andrew Sheridan’s form and the Welsh Lion was a replacement on Saturday and looked rusty. While many move for the money, Jenkins’ predicament should act as a warning sign to those considering the move themselves.
McCaw shows Warburton how it’s done
With players of Warburton’s and McCaw’s quality facing off against each other, the breakdown was always going to be fiercely contested. Both captains are vital components of their respective sides and they came into the game in contrasting form. McCaw has fully recovered from the foot injury that hampered him last year and he has once again reached the pinnacle of his game. Warburton, who was so brilliant last term, has suffered from a series of niggling injuries and has not been able to get going this season. After being rested (or dropped, depending who you speak to) last week, Warburton was looking to test himself against the legendary All Blacks. Both men are so effective at the breakdown but in order to do so they need to make sure the referee is on their side. Unfortunately for Warburton, McCaw won that battle as Craig Joubert consistently ruled against the Welshman and gave the All Blacks very kickable penalties. While their contribution on the floor is vital, McCaw is much more effective in the loose. Like most All Blacks, he is comfortable running with the ball, exploiting space and showing a deftness out of hand not normally associated with a forward. Warburton’s game is not at the same level and when he watches the game back next week he should take notes in the hope one day he can scale the same heights.