Capitulation in Cardiff: New Zealand dominate inexperienced Wales
The moments prior to kick off at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday the 30th of October had been eagerly anticipated across Wales. For the first time in 18 months, a capacity crowd let out a thunderous roar for the Welsh players who strode out onto the pitch.
Warmed by pyrotechnics and illuminated by fireworks, fans revelled in the return of the Millennium’s booming atmosphere after its long absence. The national anthem reverberated around the stands, a wave of noise rising up into the Cardiff night sky.
Unawed by their intimidating surroundings, New Zealand would provide formidable opposition. On the back of winning Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship – and then putting 104 points past the United States last week – the Kiwis brought a full-strength team to bear against Wales.
For the hosts, many top players – Justin Tipuric, Leigh Halfpenny, and George North among them – were missing due to injury. Compounding this misfortune was the absence of those playing in the English Premiership over the weekend. Talupe Faletau, Louis Rees-Zammit, as well as first-choice fly-half Dan Biggar, were all unavailable for selection.
Nevertheless, the game initially mirrored the intensity of the crowd. Despite conceding an early try when Beauden Barret intercepted a loose pass from Gareth Anscombe, Wales did well to stay in touch. Yet after losing their talismanic captain Alun-Wyn-Jones to a shoulder injury, their discipline and composure began to ebb.
Good work by the typically industrious Aaron Wainwright and debutant Taine Basham continually got Wales into strong positions before their attack subsequently broke down. This was exemplified when they failed to score a single point when New Zealand prop Nepo Laulala was sin-binned for ten minutes after a high challenge on Wainwright.
The weather began to sour in the minutes before half time, heavy rain cascading down onto the pitch as New Zealand extended their lead. They went in 18-6 up at half-time.
Despite an early second-half penalty converted by Barrett, swiftly followed by an exquisite try from Will Jordan, Wales tenaciously clung on. The deficit was reduced to 12 points as substitute Rhys Priestland scythed open the All-Blacks to put Johnny Williams through for Wales’ first try. Within 18 minutes remaining and the stadium bouncing again, there was a slender hope that the hosts could push on.
Any hope was quickly and efficiently quashed by the continually impressive New Zealand exhibiting their superior quality and fitness as they blew Wales away in the final 20 minutes with a further four fluid tries. The inexperienced Welsh team were unable to cope with the precision of their assailants. The final score line was 16-54 to the Kiwis.
This disparity in quality was expected. Yet, to some, the winner of the game was besides the point. This match was organised as an extra Autumn fixture by the Welsh Rugby Union in order to raise funds for the domestic game in Wales, where teams have suffered from the ongoing pandemic. In this frame, the game was a success – WRU announced that they had accrued £4m from the should-out 74,500 capacity stadium.
Yet the fixture has come in for criticism, with sceptics arguing that the authority is putting income ahead of the sport, something becoming increasingly apparent through the sports broadcasting deals. All fixtures this Autumn are broadcast on Amazon Prime rather than the usual BBC or ITV. Questions remain about how rugby is going to grow its fanbase and maintain financial stability when its spectacles are locked behind a pay-to-view service.
Image Credit: All Blacks Youtube