All Blacks at their most ruthlessly breathtaking against Wales
Comment: This was always going to be a tough few weeks for the All Blacks, in terms of capturing the imagination of fans back home.
After the much anticipated showdown with the Springboks gave us a test for the ages, facing the USA followed by an understrength Wales wasn’t ever going to get everyone on the edge of their seats.
That’s why most of the buildup talk about the test in Cardiff was about how it was Beauden Barrett’s 100th test, as well as a disproportionate amount of chat about how great Principality Stadium is.
There was the usual chat from Ian Foster and the team about how Wales would come out firing etc which is standard for any test in which they are massive favourites, but to be fair at least this time it held a bit of water in the first half.
But the fact that the All Blacks won by 54-16 and were unlucky not to get a couple of extra tries says an awful lot more.
The period in the second half after Wales had scored their sole try may well go down as the best the All Blacks will play this year. Yes, it was against an undergunned side that was by that stage missing their talismanic leader Alun Wyn Jones, but the lead had suddenly been cut to 12 and there was an opportunity for Wales to claw it back with a bit of luck.
That opportunity ended up lasting about as long as it was taking the more raucous patrons in the stands to down a beer.
Within a minute the All Blacks had won a penalty, kicked to the corner and were setting up for what Wales was thinking would be a lineout drive. Instead, Dalton Papalii twisted and turned his way over for what was the match-settling score.
But the All Blacks weren’t done, moments later Sevu Reece finished off what may well be the team effort of 2021 and then Anton Lienert-Brown tacked on another finish to a sweeping move for good measure.
This was the All Blacks at their most ruthless, at the same time their most breathtaking.
Hardly anyone who walked through the Principality Stadium gates thought Wales were actually going to win, but to see the absolute faintest hope of it get so thoroughly extinguished in such an entertaining way is something New Zealanders only used to experience by watching the Black Caps in the mid-1990s.
The predictions pre-match were that the All Blacks would probably post a half century and, while they were bang on, the game itself also disproved the gloomy statements about it being a ‘sham’ and ‘the stupidest fixture ever’.
This was a good watch and a grand occasion in front of a crowd connected deeply to an historic (if not very one-sided) rivalry. It is the sort of exhibition game that adds to the All Black brand – rather than detracts from it like the debacle last weekend against the Americans.
Obviously, it would have been far more preferable for this game to have been played against a full strength Welsh side who had had a couple of tests under their belt. They are, after all, Six Nations champions so there was the potential for this to have been a hemispheric battle of rugby supremacy.
On the evidence we saw today, the All Blacks would have won anyway. Their tour so far has been impressive in the way that it is incrementally building a side in both selection and confidence.
The same could be said about their season. They have scored 89 tries this year (admittedly helped a lot by the Tonga and USA mismatches) and are poised to be the first team to score 100 in a season with three tests left.
Given the next test is against the hapless Italians in Rome, they may well be raising the bat next Sunday morning.
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