Analysis – While a big win in Cardiff will keep New Zealanders happy, it probably won’t change an awful lot of minds about where this All Black team sits in the grand scheme of things, writes Jamie Wall.
This was Wales’ best chance to beat the All Blacks in a long time – the problem was no one in the Principality Stadium believed it.
The 55-23 result was more or less along the same lines as every test held here in Cardiff since the glory days of the 1970s, something that would have been pencilled in as a formality in any other All Black season.
But this is no ordinary All Black season. Home losses to Ireland and Argentina were unprecedented, so why not Wales tipping them up in front of 74,000 at the magnificent, roofed stadium? After all, they have beaten the All Blacks before, even though it was the same year that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay scaled Everest.
All week we’d heard about the 69-year hoodoo. About the singing. About the special bond between the two rugby nations and the unique history they share.
The problem is, it’s the same thing over and over again, so it’s only natural that the result of the actual test match would follow suit. The occasion is incredible, a bucket list item for any New Zealand rugby fan, but if the hosts continue to treat it the same way, they’re only going to be adding years to that total whenever the All Blacks return.
It was all there for the Welsh. The blueprint to beat this All Black side had been established by the Irish, Pumas and Boks, even by the All Blacks themselves who have been consistently rattled early in tests and unable to claw back two score leads.
That wasn’t a factor as they shot out to a 17-0 lead through two rare open field tries to Codie Taylor. Jordie Barrett’s height brought Rio Dyer down to earth after he’d scored a try on debut, with the new All Black midfielder humiliatingly jumping over him to touch down in the corner. Aaron Smith’s double was down to two trademarks: first his own step and then Ardie Savea’s outrageous dummy.
While the scoreline suggests a comfortable All Black victory and a turning of (yet another) corner in terms of rebuilding the brand after the aforementioned 2022 damage, the issues that have dogged them this year were still evident.
They gave Wales plenty of field position through a lopsided penalty count, while relying on individual brilliance to score tries. That’s not to say this was a bad All Black performance, far from it, but there were enough rough edges for the Welsh to exploit if they simply applied themselves better. After all, 23 points is an indication that they had it their own way for plenty of the game.
It was probably best summed up late in the game when Gareth Anscombe charged down a poor Beauden Barrett clearing kick and regathered with nothing but fresh air between him and the tryline. The look on the former Blues and Chiefs first five’s face said it all when he was mown down by Richie Mo’unga in a beautiful cover tackle, disappointment poorly masking grim acceptance.
That same look was etched on the faces of the fans as they trudged to the exits while Samisoni Taukei’aho’s try sent the score past the half century mark.
From an All Black perspective, this was a very positive step on what has been fairly marked as a pretty difficult end to a very difficult season. Savea’s performance at number eight was exceptional, Taylor answered a few questions and to a lesser extent so did Aaron Smith – who seems to be a far different player when he has Brad Weber in the squad to nip at his heels.
Finlay Christie and Folau Fakatava are fine players, but since they grew up watching and presumably idolising Smith, it’s unlikely they harbour the same belief that Weber does about taking the number nine jersey for themselves right here and now.
While a big win in Cardiff will keep New Zealanders happy, it probably won’t change an awful lot of minds about where this All Black team sits in the grand scheme of things. If this can be repeated next weekend at Murrayfield and then something similar at Twickenham, that might be a different story.
For the Welsh though, that losing streak to the All Blacks will be past the average life expectancy soon. If they don’t change the way they think about this fixture, it’ll just keep going.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz