Monday, June 21, 2010

Second wind blows the dragons away
Sunday Jun 20, 2010

Like some well-planned time bomb, the All Blacks flicked a switch after 40 minutes last night and exploded in deadly fashion. Wales were obliterated in the end, unable to live with the pace, intensity and skill of the All Blacks.

For an evening rife with nostalgia, it was shaping like the All Blacks were going to close the book on Carisbrook with little to recommend in the final chapter.

Then it all went off. From being tentative and loose they suddenly found a harder edge. The urgency increased, the aggression arrived and the attacking flair was rediscovered.

The arrival of Tony Woodcock on the loose-head brought a destructive element to a scrummaging battle that Wales probably shaded in the first half.

Most importantly, the All Blacks found their confidence; they began to believe in themselves and the passes stuck, the runners broke tackles and Dan Carter, quiet enough before, burst out of his shell.

Fear not, Carter is back. His running game, perhaps deliberately having been under wraps during Super 14, scored two marvellous tries on account of his pace, balance and strength.

Richard Kahui, short of form all year, was a revelation on the wing and Victor Vito, seemingly quiet, did more than casual observers will have picked. His explosive power troubled the Welsh, who had to put two men on defensive chores to bring him down.

It wasn't quite vintage, but it was impressive. Which will bring some relief as the Welsh - brave and enterprising as they were - are destined to be the nearly men of world rugby until global warming takes us all. They don't believe they can beat the All Blacks.

They talk about it, but the players and everyone else knew that anything less than a 15-point win for the All Blacks would have been categorised as a bad night.

Wales are a classic 60-minute side - good enough to be bothersome until the final quarter. That's what they aim for; they hope to be within touch come the final 20 minutes, somehow giving them the mental lift they need to cling on.

It was clear, when Stephen Jones dropped a goal after four minutes, that was their plan. If they could grind it out, nudge the scoreboard along ... then maybe.

Victory, then, for the All Blacks was a given. It was the means by which it was achieved that was key, and despite the obvious second half improvement, everyone should still feel a little concerned.

When those big, horrible, nasty South Africans arrive next month, there won't be any comfort blankets for the All Blacks.

They copped a lucky break five minutes before halftime when the ball squirmed out of a Welsh ruck and Cory Jane could pick up unopposed until he stepped past Ryan Jones on the try-line.

It gave the All Blacks the sort of lead they barely deserved, and one that enabled them to offload some of their angst and settle into a better rhythm.

Their ball retention hadn't been good up until then. Not as bad as it was in the final quarter against Ireland, but not distinctly better either. Cough it up as much they did last night against the Boks and Carisbrook won't be the only institution being farewelled.

The defensive wall also needs fine-tuning. There were some big one-on-one hits and a greater level of organisation. However, there were passages where it slipped, and the Welsh grew in confidence without the suffocation effect of relentless defence.

The Welsh will feel they should have done more with their possession and territory. For all their ability to keep the ball in hand and stretch the All Blacks, they lacked thrust. It was pretty but lateral.

They seemed happier when booting the ball to the heavens, convinced from what they had no doubt seen last year that the All Blacks were ropey at the catching business.
Israel Dagg didn't drop one all night. Jane was his imperious self in the air and even Joe Rokocoko only dropped one - not at all bad for him.

The aerial work was excellent and when Wales realised they were getting nowhere kicking it away, they ran out of ideas.
Not the All Blacks.
They were full of running. Full of vision, and now full of hope.

New Zealand 42 (K. Mealamu, C. Jane, D. Carter (2), R. Kahui tries; D. Carter 3 pens, 4 cons), Wales 9 (S. Jones DG, pen; L. Halfpenny pen).

By Gregor Paul

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