Errant Blacks down Wales

The All Blacks produced an unimpressive 29-10 victory over Wales in the second Test in Hamilton.

Despite a 42-9 defeat last weekend, Wales were still confident of upsetting the All Blacks at Waikato Stadium, the former home of head coach Warren Gatland. But the hosts were always favourites, even though Graham Henry made seven changes.

The All Blacks’ rotation saw them fail to gel the way they did in Dunedin and Wales managed to put in an improved performance. The visitors were good on defence and managed to restrict the All Blacks on most occasions, but they hardly threatened on attack as a stale effort was easily countered by the All Blacks’ defence. Conversely, the All Blacks weren’t effective on attack themselves and mistakes hampered their ability to convert their numerous opportunities into points.

It was an uneventful first quarter as Wales dominated with the boot and enjoyed a territorial advantage as flyhalf Dan Biggar and fullback Lee Byrne pinned the All Blacks in their half with accurate kicks. From there, Wales tried to enforce the errors and their first opportunity for points came through wing Cory Jane’s ill-discipline at the tackle point. Wing Leigh Halfpenny kicked the long range three-pointer but that was to be their only say in the first half.

The All Blacks had their chances to score but poor handling and a frantic approach saw them spoil their try-scoring opportunities. Wales were also strong in defence and were able to restrict the hosts. The home team continued to run the ball and Wales’ resistance faded. They won a penalty as the visitors were ruled offside and Dan Carter levelled the scores.

The All Blacks were then rewarded after employing a more patient approach. After the forwards drove through 10 phases into Wales’ 22m area, good interplay from the backline created space for Jane to dive over out wide. Skipper Ryan Jones’ injury was a further blow for Wales as he cried off with a knee injury.

The game quietened down as Wales managed to beef up on defence and the home team couldn’t find the rhythm to build momentum. There was a key point on the half-time mark as Byrne was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on lock Tom Donnelly. Carter converted the penalty for the All Blacks to lead 13-3 at the break.

Wales conceded four penalties soon after the restart and Carter took full advantage as he kicked all 12 points to give the All Blacks a comfortable lead. Henry rang the changes soon afterwards and this disrupted the team’s momentum, resulting in an indifferent second half compared to last Saturday.

Two yellow cards for lock Sam Whitelock and flank Gavin Thomas opened the game up in the dying moments and this swung the game in Wales’ favour. They had two clear try-scoring opportunities but centre Jamie Roberts was held up and Halfpenny dropped the ball right in front of the try line. Roberts eventually crossed the chalk on the third attempt for the consolation score.

From the kickoff, the All Blacks managed to create one more opportunity as skipper Richie McCaw broke down the left touchline. The hosts worked their way into the Welsh red zone. A chip through was collected by replacement flyhalf Aaron Cruden to seal the win.

It wasn’t the ideal final dress rehearsal for Henry’s men before their Tri-Nations opener against the Springboks on 10 July. They were easily restricted with an effective tactial game and they will need to rectify their failure to find fluency on attack, something the Boks will surely take note of.

By Gareth Duncan