A depleted Wales fell to a heavy defeat at the hands of New Zealand as the autumn internationals got underway at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
With all English-based players unavailable plus the likes of Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, George North and Liam Williams sidelined, Wayne Pivac turned to the likes of Ryan Elias, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright, the returning Gareth Anscombe and Owen Lane in an inexperienced starting XV.
Within four minutes of the game starting the side were on the back foot when a Gareth Anscombe short pass off first phase ball was picked off by Beauden Barrett who cantered over the line on his 100th appearances, allowing his brother Jordie to convert.
However, Wales were in the battle early in the game and when Taine Basham won a penalty over the ball just two phases after the restart, Anscombe was able to cut the lead quickly, before there was controversy as an Owen Lane counter attack saw the winger streak up to halfway before his offload was slapped down by Barrett. A penalty but no yellow card for the All Black.
Staying with a full complement of players allowed New Zealand to ride out the pressure applied by the home side before a scrum penalty win sent them down field and after two lengthy attacking sets it was Aaron Wainwright pinged for not rolling away as Barrett the full-back added three more points.
More suspect refereeing decisions appeared as they first half wore on, particularly when it came to penalising Josh Adams for simply out-jumping one of the Barretts, allowing the All Blacks to return to Wales’ 22. A lengthy pick-and-drive sequence followed but although Nepo Laulala knocked on with the try line begging there was an offside penalty against Johnny Williams resulting three more points on the board.
After another attacking set camped in our 22 that ended with the visitors off their feet, New Zealand were finally back over the try line five minutes before half-time when Ardie Savea picked from the base of a breakdown and broke two tackles before offloading to TJ Perenara who dived over for the score.
There was still time for more refereeing controversy though as Ross Moriarty was shoulder charged to the head by Laulala, but the referee and TMO decided the Wales flanker’s drop in height and a Sam Whitelock tackle just prior to contact were enough mitigation to drop from red card to yellow. Unfortunately the man advantage was not capitalised on as the lineout fell apart on two key occasions.
Anscombe did add three more points with the final kick of the half as Wales looked semi-threatening going forward but on the other side of half-time some clever New Zealand tactical kicking saw them pin us back in our own half before a holding on penalty allowed Jordie Barrett to add three more points as Laulala returned to the field.
Back up to XV and settled back into their rhythm the All Blacks began dominating proceedings, looking particularly dangerous on kick returns as their speed and handling ability came to the fore. Winger Will Jordan was the main threat and on his second line break he was able to kick perfectly over Tomos Williams to score with Jordie adding the extras.
Finally though, with an hour on the clock, Wales got on the scoreboard. A penalty took us down to the New Zealand 22, and then a strong maul secured a penalty advantage. Rhys Carre and Seb Davies linked up well and then an ideally weighted nudge through from Rhys Priestland saw Johnny Williams touch down under the posts, Priestland converting.
That was as good as it got for the hosts however, as straight from kick-off Dillon Lewis was pinged for obstruction and the All Blacks kicked to the corner, getting over the line courtesy of Dalton Papali’i at the back of the lineout, before Sevu Reece got on the end of a Jordie Barrett chip kick to exchange passes with Rieko Ioane and Ardie Savea before scoring.
They continued to keep the foot on the throat through another lengthy attacking set, carrying hard up front before Beauden Barrett got the ball moving wide through Ioane, Jordie and on to Anton Lienert-Brown to score in the corner, and then the scoring was complete with another Beauden intercept after an attempted Johnny McNicholl miracle offload.
Jordie’s boot made the final score 16-54 as a final quarter 26-point blitz from the All Blacks took the game away from the home side, as was realistically expected considering the list of injured and unavailable players to Wayne Pivac. It could well be argued that being competitive for 60 minutes was about as good as it could have got for the men in red.
Meanwhile the Welsh Rugby Union pocket £4m on the day after a cash-stricken 18 months during the pandemic, and the full squad get together on Monday morning ahead of a battle with reigning world champions South Africa next weekend.