Wales fired then faded to lose 29-9 to New Zealand at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff.
It started brightly enough for Warren Gatland’s boys, but they couldn’t sustain that effort and ultimately paid the price against a well drilled All Blacks unit.
There was a memorable stand off once the Haka was completed, Wales holding their ground, standing motionless, simply staring at the All Blacks. The visitors seemed stunned, but reciprocated by not forming up either.
Only after stern instruction from referee Jonathan Kaplan did the teams disperse, and it was Wales who rode the wave of adrenalin early in the Test. They defended well, rushing off their line to cut down the space and time of the All Blacks’ ball carriers and competed at the breakdowns with rabid enthusiasm.
This troubled the Blacks, who seemed to become increasingly lateral in their attacks, which allowed Wales to drift and pick them off relatively easily, or force them into ill-advised decisions.
Both sides showed a healthy disregard for the conservative approach that marks the majority of Test matches in the modern era, but for all the air the ball saw, it would be flyhalves Stephen Jones and Dan Carter who were the only contributors of the first half, the former slotting three tries to the latter’s two for a 9-3 lead to Wales.
The hosts crafted the better scoring opportunities of the first half, the best of which came when Lee Byrne sliced through the line but attempted a speculative back-handed pass, when he would have been better advised to set up a ruck.
However, Wales’ struggles at the set phases meant they relied too heavily on attack from unstructured play. They often played behind the advantage line, making their already arduous task of unhinging a try-stingy defence, even more difficult.
Carter levelled the scores a minute after half-time, and his side should have capitalised thereafter when they camped on the Wales 5m line for six minutes. Instead they relinquished possession when scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan was penalised for a illegal feed into a scrum – his third such penalty of the evening.
But the Blacks had signalled their intent and they became more threatening as the match progressed. They finally made the pressure tell, Ma’a Nonu crossing after the Blacks had built up through a number of phases which depleted the Wales defence. Carter added the extras.
The Blacks shifted gears and Wales found it increasingly difficult to repel them, especially after the visitors remedied their breakdown flaws. Carter kicked another penalty to take his side into a 10 point lead and Wales replacement flyhalf, James Hook, crucially missed one that would have put his side within a converted try of levelling the scores.
Carter punished that error shortly after, and at 22-9 with five minutes remaining you just never saw a Wales side who had shot their bolt with a spirited first half display, coming back into the contest. The closer the match drew to its conclusion the more erratic the Welsh attack became. Instead it was Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino who crossed the chalk late in the match.
Wales needed to replicate and refine their first half performance to stand a chance of upsetting the Blacks. They failed to do so, and the grand slam dream lives on for Graham Henry’s charges.
Wales - Penalty: Stephen Jones (3)
New Zealand - Try: Ma’a Nonu, Jerome Kaino. Conversion: Dan Carter (2). Penalty: Carter (5)