Cruden guides All Blacks past Wales
CARDIFF (AFP) –
Aaron Cruden guided world champions New Zealand to a comfortable 33-10 victory over Wales on Saturday to extend their unbeaten streak to 20 matches.
The All Blacks outscored the Welsh three tries to two, but 18 points from the boot of the flawless Cruden, quick play of the ball, a ruthless defence and mastery at the breakdown were key to their success at a packed Millennium Stadium.
Wales’ early hopes were not helped by their insistence on spurning three kickable penalties, and the defeat for Warren Gatland’s men was their sixth on the trot, their worst run of defeats since 2003.
It was also a 25th consecutive loss to the All Blacks since 1953.
“Wales never gave up. We had to defend in the second half, the momentum swings about, but to win by 23 points in a place like this is a great result,” said New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw.
“It was a reasonable performance but perhaps we did not treasure the ball as much as we could have. We will have to get over this afternoon, but we would be disappointed to go to Twickenham next week (against England) and not put in a big performance.”
Gatland said he was proud of the way his struggling side had stuck to their task in the second period after trailing 23-0 at the break.
“We are disappointed by that first half, but a lesser team might have thrown in the towel against the world champions. I think we grew into the game and I was proud of the way they took the game to the All Blacks,” he said.
The game featured a ferocious, no-holds barred opening quarter that saw three Welshmen helped off.
In the opening minute, All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore took out lock Bradley Davies with a cynical swinging arm to the head and then tighthead prop Aaron Jarvis suffered a nasty knee injury.
Wales surprisingly spurned two kickable penalties, instead asking Rhys Priestland to kick for the corner. The second of his efforts went dead and handed the impetus straight back to the visitors.
And Cruden, in for the injured playmaker Dan Carter, made no mistake with his first effort at goal in the 10th minute.
Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny showed all his defensive qualities with a tackle to wrap up winger Julian Savea in the corner as Cruden and Conrad Smith started to open up the Welsh backs.
As centre Jamie Roberts was helped off the field, Cruden kicked a second penalty, again for offside in the backline and then added a third when Wales captain Sam Warbuton was penalised for playing the ball on the ground.
Liam Messam then crossed for one of the more memorable tries of the autumn internationals, rounding off a startling piece of play that started when Israel Dagg escaped two tackles and offloaded to Savea.
The impressive Cuthbert managed to bring the winger down, but an offload to Cruden was recycled and the ball was sent spinning simply and effectively down the line, Messam the happy recipient of the final pass to cross in the corner.
With Cruden adding the extras, Wales were firmly on the backfoot, but a 40-metre break by Jonathan Davies brought the crowd to their feet.
A penalty attempt was again spurned as Wales went for a try, but Priestland committed the cardinal sin of overkicking for touch, for the second time, handing the advantage straight back to New Zealand.
The All Blacks made no such mistake when Cruden kicked to the corner on the stroke of half-time.
Tony Woodcock was on hand to replicate his try in the World Cup final, the veteran prop crashing over through the middle of a line-out after a perfectly-executed tap down from the back.
Cruden kicked the conversion to leave the visitors 23-0 down at half-time, the fly-half adding a fourth penalty two minutes into the second period.
The floodgates appeared to have been opened when lock Luke Romano crashed through Cuthbert after a fine draw-and-pass by Savea. Cruden maintained his 100 percent kicking record.
But Wales were rewarded for their perserverance with a try through unusual means: all 15 players joined a maul off a line-out and powered over the All Blacks line, Scott Williams touching down in the mass of bodies.
A raft of replacements in the last 15 minutes made for a frantic end in which Cuthbert got a deserved consolation try as the All Blacks maintained a winning record in November internationals in 28 matches dating back to 2002.