NZPA - (27/06/2010)
Richie McCaw became the All Blacks' most successful captain but it was another rugby record breaker who stole the show in last night's unspectacular 29-10 defeat of Wales in Hamilton.
McCaw notched test win No 40 as skipper, moving one clear of the great Sean Fitzpatrick, as New Zealand maintained their 57-year hold over the Welsh.
However, it was a performance that lacked the dash of sizeable defeats of Wales in Dunedin a week earlier and, before that, Ireland at New Plymouth.
At fault for the stilted affair was a greasy surface, 15 All Blacks' handling errors allied with poor option-taking, more defensive resolve from the tourists and -- last but not least -- South African referee Jonathan Kaplan.
One of Kaplan's more officious displays came in his 17th appointment in charge of New Zealand, the most by any whistler with one team in the history of tests.
He issued three yellow cards and cracked down hard in several areas, most notably the messy scrums. He found fault with Wales over the middle part of the test, allowing All Blacks first five-eighth Daniel Carter to send his team clear with five penalties in a 17-point haul.
McCaw didn't mind that his own milestone was largely overlooked post-test, instead turning his attention to a performance which didn't match their two other June outings for quality.
"Turning over the ball and letting them off the hook was a bit disappointing," he said."When we did hold the ball and get down their end, it was penalties we were getting. We just kept it ticking over, taking the three points. It would have been nice to build pressure and score tries. But in the end it put them out of the game."
Tries in the final five minutes brought some life into the fixture, with Welsh second five-eighth Jamie Roberts' score followed by a maiden test try to first five-eighth Aaron Cruden on the hooter.Winger Cory Jane, who scored the only first-half try and was a candidate with McCaw and centre Richard Kahui for player of the match, said players were too often guilty of throwing passes that weren't on or, conversely, holding onto it when numbers loomed outside.A good example of the latter came when Rene Ranger -- making his test debut off the reserve bench at centre -- ignored three teammates outside him.
"Ranger's one, I think he wanted to score that try," Jane smiled."He's my roomie, he told me that the first opportunity he gets he was going to be greedy so we'll let that one slide."
Also putting on cheerful front was All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who preferred to judge his team's three combined efforts this month rather than last night, where seven personnel changes possibly disrupted their patterns.
"We've played better rugby during this period than we did this time last year," he said."We've developed a lot of new players, which has developed depth. There is a platform to go on from here."
He and Wales coach Warren Gatland both praised the Welsh players for a brave rearguard over the final half-hour, a far cry from their capitulation at Carisbrook.Said Gatland: "These guys could have thought about getting on the plane tomorrow and going on holiday for six weeks but they didn't do that and that's what I was really proud of.
"They showed some character out there and wore that jersey with some real pride. That's a massive step in leadership from a lot of players."There's still a gap, let's be realistic. But we've got a massive amount of learning out of the last two weeks."
Gatland had no problem with any of the yellow cards, to fullback Lee Byrne on halftime for a dangerous tackle on lock Tom Donnelly, and to Welsh flanker Gavin Thomas and All Blacks reserve lock Sam Whitelock for a fairly tame physical exchange with 10 minutes remaining.
He was pleased with how his young charges responded when captain Ryan Jones limped from the field midway through the first half but rued the "soft penalties" which were punished by Carter's unerring left boot.
Meanwhile, one other world record was broken last night, of a more dubious nature.
Veteran Wales first five-eighth Stephen Jones made a late showing off the bench, meaning his record against New Zealand falls to no wins and 13 losses, the worst by anyone against a major test-playing nation.
Factbox for the most test rugby wins by international captains (team, number of tests as captain, period of captaincy):
50 - John Smit (South Africa, 70, 2003-)
44 - Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland/Lions, 67, 2002-)
44 - Will Carling (England, 59, 1988-96)
41 - John Eales (Australia, 55, 1996-01)
40 - RICHIE MCCAW (NZ, 46, 2004-)
39 - SEAN FITZPATRICK (NZ, 51, 1992-97)
37 - Martin Johnson (England, 45, 1997-2003)
Also:-22 - WILSON WHINERAY (NZ, 30, 1958-65)
20 - REUBEN THORNE (NZ, 23, 2002-07)
18 - TANA UMAGA (NZ, 21, 2004-05)