Dominant first half hands All Blacks easy win
An act of thuggery from Andrew Hore has overshadowed the 33-10 lesson the All Blacks handed injury-ravaged Wales in Cardiff early today (NZ time).
Just like the Adam Thomson saga, Hore is set to become the sideshow that will hover over the final week of the international season in the Northern Hemisphere.
The All Blacks may have turned on an at times a beautiful display of attacking rugby in the three-tires-to-two victory, but there was nothing attractive about Hore's act.
It's hard to know what the hooker, who is certain to be cited, was thinking when he collected Welsh lock Bradley Davies from behind with a swinging arm in just the second minute.
Davies was the first of three locals, pivotal second five-eighths Jamie Roberts and prop Aaron Jarvis the others, to depart with injury in the first quarter as the All Blacks' physicality and superior skills baffled the Welsh in-front of a capacity 72,372 crowd at an electric Millennium Stadium.
Not only did the All Blacks maintain their 59-year stranglehold and inflict a sixth successive defeat on the struggling Six Nations champions, but their unbeaten streak, which dates back to the first match of last year's World Cup against Tonga, now stands at 20 matches.
In Dan Carter's absence, Aaron Cruden stepped up to control the game in his 67-minute stint on the back of a superb forward effort. With just two days preparation Cruden ran the cutter, slotted seven flawless goals (18 points) and looked much more assured in general play than in Rome last week. He clearly benefitted from consecutive
Israel Dagg also produced a blinder from fullback and Richie McCaw, named man-of-the-match, led the charge up-front.
Warren Gatland was anything but the white knight. His return from British and Irish Lions duties made no difference to a Welsh side that are officially suffering a confidence crisis.
Jonathan Davies added punch to the midfield and captain Sam Warburton toiled away but ill-discipline, poor ball control, and questionable decisions to turn down three kickable penalties in the first-half blighted their work.
Rhys Priestland inexcusably twice kicked dead in a forgettable outing for the first five-eighth.
By half-time, with the All Blacks holding an insurmountable 23-0 lead, this contest was already over.
It's too bad the IRB announced their try of the year nominations this week; the All Blacks first strike was a memorable 80-metre gem. Dagg and Julian Savea started the counter attack that would become a familiar sight and Liam Messam finished the stunning sweeping movement.
Prop Tony Woodcock scored in a replica move of the sole try in last year's World Cup final and lock Luke Romano also crashed over in the first spell.
Wales mounted a spirited second-half comeback but their first try to replacement Scott Williams from a 15-man lineout pushover and their second to wing Alex Cuthbert three minutes from full-time merely made the match look closer than it was.
Cory Jane being yellow carded for intentionally knocking the ball down in the 60th minute aided the Welsh cause and forced the All Blacks to defend for large periods of the second half which was split at 10-points each.
While Steve Hansen won't be impressed with latter stages, the All Blacks coach was still able to empty his bench with comfort, giving playmaker Beauden Barrett and hooker Dane Coles, who is likely to be needed at Twickenham next week, valuable game-time in the intense atmosphere.
Overall, apart from the Hore incident, Hansen will be satisfied.
All Blacks 33 (Liam Messam Tony Woodcock, Luke Romano tries; Aaron Cruden pen 4, con 3).
Wales 10 (Scott Williams, Alex Cuthbert tries) HT: 23-0