All Blacks come from behind to crush Wales in Auckland
World Cup champions show they are still a force to be reckoned with and that there is life after Dan Carter and Richie McCaw
Kieran Read celebrated his elevation to the All Blacks captaincy by leading a come-from-behind victory as his team produced a lethal finish to crush Wales 39-21 in the first test in Auckland on Saturday.
In a test which swung from scintillating to scrappy, in the end it was the pace and intensity of the All Blacks in the closing 20 minutes that determined the outcome.
It was an “awesome feeling” said Read, who has taken over from World Cup winning skipper Richie McCaw.
“The boys showed some belief and showed that connection that we needed,” he said.
“It was a tight spot.”
Read paid credit to the All Blacks bench, who came on to pick up the speed of the game when it mattered.
“We’re an 80 minute team and the bench come on to lift our team and it’s what we expect of them,” Read said.
Wales coach Warren Gatland rated his side’s performance as “brilliant for 60 minutes”.
“The relentlessness the All Blacks bring and keep playing for 80 minutes,” Gatland said. “They keep coming at you.”
Wales looked promising – leading 18-15 at half-time and 21-18 with 18 minutes remaining – and sensed their 63-year wait for a famous victory over the world champions was on the cards.
But, when the All Blacks unleashed their trademark storming finish they wrapped up the game with late tries to Waisake Naholo, Read and Nathan Harris.
Naholo scored a double for the All Blacks and Julian Savea also touched down, with Aaron Cruden landing four conversions and two penalties.
For Wales, Taulupe Faletau and Rhys Webb scored tries, with Dan Biggar contributing a conversion and three penalties.
Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones had the honour of leading the teams on to the field in his centenary test but then blotted his copybook by giving away an early penalty.
Cruden, who slotted comfortably into the backline general’s role vacated by Dan Carter, hit the uprights with that kick but had the All Blacks on the board soon after with a close-range shot.
Wales muscled up to force the All Blacks back to their own line and quickly regained the lead with a try to back-rower Faletau.
They drew the All Blacks defence into one corner then went wide to the other side, taking right wing Naholo off his line to cover a barren midfield which allowed Faletau to cross unopposed in the corner.
Soon after the restart the All Blacks struck twice in quick succession.
Naholo stepped around Hallam Amos to lead the All Blacks deep into Welsh territory, where Cruden slotted a precise cross kick into the arms of Savea who scored in the left corner.
It was one of the few bright spots in Savea’s game, who had trouble containing explosive Welsh wing George North.
It was a 30-metre North break that again lifted Wales’ spirits but their attempt to test Ben Smith with a high kick backfired.
The All Blacks fullback took the ball under pressure and launched a counter-attack that ended 80 metres downfield with a try to Naholo.
As the game morphed into a frantic period of attack and counter-attack, marred by handling lapses, it was Wales who broke the deadlock.
Biggar landed two penalties before Liam Williams opened up the All Blacks with a burst through a fragmented defence and put Webb in for a try under the posts.
Cruden and Biggar swapped penalties early in the second half before the All Blacks stepped up several gears.
Naholo scored his second try running off an Aaron Smith tap penalty close to the line.
The power of New Zealand’s bench was evident as Patrick Tuipulotu sent Read over and then Charlie Faumuina set up Harris’ try.
The second Test is in Wellington next Saturday.