Sunday, 8 November 2009

All Blacks withstand late Welsh revival

Despite a rousing finale by Wales, New Zealand increased their winning streak to 21 matches with a 12-19 victory at the Millennium Stadium in the opening game of the Invesco Perpetual Series.

It’s been 56 long and painful years since the men in black had their colours lowered by Wales and although Ryan Jones’s men gave it their best shot, New Zealand showed why they have carved out such an impressive record. They snuffed out any semblance of an attack with destructive defence and attacked with ferocious intent.

Speculation surrounding whether key Kiwi Dan Carter would play for the All Blacks turned out to be exactly that – speculation. He kicked off the match in front of a packed out stadium to a cacophony of noise.

Both teams sized each other up in the opening exchanges with Wales scrum half Gareth Cooper sniping away at the fringes and gaining valuable yards for his forwards while All Blacks new boy Zac Guildford looked threatening whenever he got near the ball.

The home side had the first opportunity to open the scoring but Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty from wide out sailed wide in the seventh minute. The All Blacks were being pegged back deep inside their own half but they refused to panic. Carter was pulling the strings expertly from fly half, getting Richie McCaw’s men out of danger with a series of relieving kicks.

Wales were made to pay when trying to run from deep. Halfpenny was trapped at the bottom of a ruck and penalised for not releasing the ball. Carter’s trusty left peg did the rest to put the All Blacks 0-3 ahead.

It was then thrust and counter thrust between the two sides has both defences were tested to their limits. Eventually something had to give and McCaw was soon penalised for handling in the ruck. Jones banged over the penalty to level the scores in the 16th minute.

Four minutes later Carter used his left foot to torment the Welsh defence close to their own try-line. Wales were driven back over their line with All Blacks scrum half Brendon Leonard claiming a try. However after a lengthy pause, TMO Graham Hughes denied him the try. Carter however ensured the All Blacks left with at least three points when he knocked over a simple penalty to regain the lead for the tourists.

It may have been over half a century since Wales last beat the All Blacks, but the home side were making sure the men in black knew they were in a test match. The breakdown was evenly contested while neither backline was giving each other an inch to move.

Five minutes from halftime Jones slotted his second penalty to tie the scores at 6-6 and it remained that away until the players went down the tunnel for a well earned break.

The All Blacks shot out of the blocks in the second half when Carter knocked over his third penalty. This spurred on the tourists as they clicked through the gears and ran everything at Wales. Guildford and Corey Jane busted a gut to get their hands on the ball and take the attack to New Zealand.

Wales stood tall defiantly but eventually the dam broke in the 56th minute. The All Blacks surged ominously into the Welsh 22 and fed the ball left. Hooker Andrew Hore was the beneficiary of great team work to score his fifth Test try. Carter, of course, obliged with the sideline conversion to put give the All Blacks a 10 point buffer.

The TMO was called upon for the second time in the 62nd minute and for the second time he denied the All Blacks a try after he adjudged Conrad Smith hadn’t grounded the ball in Shane Williams’s tackle. Mr Hughes was called upon immediately from the re-start when the All Blacks scrambled the Welsh scrum close to the try-line.

The All Blacks turned the screw further in the 66th minute when Carter slotted another penalty after constant pressure led to Wales infringing. Jones immediately cancelled that out with his third shot on target to bring the margin back to 10 points.

Wales then roared back with Williams dazzling the All Blacks with a bit of magic out wide. He cut back infield to give replacement scrum half Martin Roberts the ball who got clattered high by the retreating Carter.

Five minutes from time Jones ensured a frantic finish with his fourth penalty. Alun-Wyn Jones brought the fans to their feet when he intercepted Jimmy Cowan’s pass and ran 60m before Guildford came back to rescue the All Blacks deep inside their own 22.

Wales battered away but couldn’t find the crucial breakthrough to run out of time as the All Blacks maintained their winning streak against Wales. But the fact skipper Richie McCaw was urging the referee Craig Jourbert to blow the whistle was proof enough to suggest that the men in black were made to fight for their win all the way.


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