With the score at 15-13 to New Zealand, Welsh full-back Leigh Halfpenny slotted a penalty goal to put Wales 16-15 up, with just 13 minutes left of the match. Welsh fans dared to dream that we could beat NZ for the first time since 1953. Then, with only 11 minutes to go, NZ scored an opportunistic try, and by the time the match had ended they had stretched their lead to a 34-16 win, scoring 19 unanswered points in the last 11 minutes. What heartbreak for Wales; but hats off to New Zealand, this is why they are the best in the World.
This was a nail-biting match, with not an inch given by either side. After a thrilling first half, the score stood at 3-3; in stark contrast to the high scores one sees more and more in rugby these days. Wales had been under pressure for most of the first half, but the Welsh defence was immense. The lacklustre display against Fiji from a week ago was replaced by a level of commitment which was enthralling. Time after time the Welsh players put in the most crunching tackles on their opposition, and New Zealand could not find a way through despite all the possession and territory they were getting.
Early in the second half the try-deadlock was broken, with New Zealand scoring a try from a nice break to the left. Wales fly half Dan Biggar missed a tackle which he really should have nailed, and New Zealand were over. After converting the try they were 10-3 up; but Wales struck back within a few minutes with a lovely try by Rhys Webb, to level the scores at 10-10. Then, Wales were awarded a penalty to go 13-10 in the lead, before New Zealand struck back with another try, which they failed to convert. It was 15-13 to New Zealand before Halfpenny slotted the penalty on 67 minutes to put Wales into the narrowest of leads.
The try on 69 minutes which put NZ back in front was cruel on Wales, the All Black outside half Beauden Barrett chipped ahead and the awkward bounce caught Halfpenny going in the wrong direction, and the Kiwi was in under the posts. A few minutes later Mike Phillips had a clearance kick charged down and all of a sudden Wales were 29-16 behind, when only 5 minutes before they had been 16-15 up. Another unconverted try for NZ in the last few minutes left a final score of 34-16, but the scoreline didn’t indicate what a tight match it had been until the last 10 minutes.
So, heartbreak once again for Wales, and it is now 61 years and counting since we last beat New Zealand. It is difficult to see what else Wales could have done, they put in a huge effort but were undone in the last 10 minutes by a better team. NZ have the ability to absorb pressure, and then just move up another gear at the business end of the second half, and this is what they did on Saturday. In my opinion, Wales’ play didn’t significantly worsen in those last 10 minutes, although some substitutions did disrupt things. But, for me, it was more that NZ just applied that killer instinct that they have and moved to a level of play that was too good for Wales.
We now have to pick ourselves up for our final game of this Autumn series – the Springboks next Saturday. If Wales can put in a display like we did against NZ, and go into the last 10 minutes with a larger lead, I don’t see any reason why we cannot record our second ever victory over South Africa. We shall see!