BEAUDEN BARRETT STEPPED into Dan Carter’s boots with aplomb to help extend New Zealand’s winning streak over Wales to 26 matches with a 34-16 victory on Saturday.
The world champions have lost just once in two years, a two-point reverse to the Springboks in Johannesburg last month in a dead rubber after the All Blacks had wrapped up the Rugby Championship for a third successive season.
And while the half-time score at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium was just 3-3, the All Blacks showed their true class in a stunning second-half performance in which they scored five tries.
Julian Savea, Jerome Kaino, Barrett (2) and Kieran Read all crossed the whitewash, Barrett nailing a penalty and conversion and Colin Slade two more as the visitors piled up 24 points in the final 17 minutes against a flagging Welsh side.
Rhys Webb scored Wales’ sole try, Leigh Halfpenny converting and keeping the scoreboard ticking with three penalties as the home side ran out of puff after a hard-hitting first period where defence was king.
Richie McCaw, captaining New Zealand for the 100th time in his 137th Test, was guilty of giving away the first kickable penalty when he sniffed a jackal’s chance of prising a ball loose from a ruck.
Halfpenny made no mistake from in front of the posts to open the scoring to a frenetic match marked by some brutal defence and both sides’ willingness to run the ball.
Wales, guilty of 22 turnovers in their woeful 17-13 win over Fiji last weekend following a 33-28 defeat by Australia, pinpointed Savea with a series of boxkicks, but the giant winger proved capable under the high ball.
Paul James was being given a torrid time by All Black tighthead Owen Franks and when he collapsed a scrum on halfway, Barrett, with the “rusty” Carter handed water-running duties for the day, made amends with his second effort after 22 minutes.
A neat trademark show-and-go by home scrum-half Webb almost paid dividends, as the game then settled into a high-octane showdown in the middle of the park.
Wales skipper Sam Warburton broke the fluster and bluster with a sharp break, but he had no support and Charles Piutau put in a crunching last-man tackle, cross-code star Sonny Bill Williams immediately displaying his offloading skills up the end of the pitch.
Wales had obviously not heard the surreal pro-Wales half-time interview with former Baywatch hunk David Hasselhoff, who has a Welsh girlfriend Hayley Roberts, as the All Blacks scored the first try of the game just two minutes after the restart.
After Halfpenny was turned over by Read after inexplicably opting to pick and go close to his own line, Barrett shifted the ball left to Conrad Smith who, under pressure from Alex Cuthbert, produced a slick backhanded pass to Savea.
The winger hailed as the “new Jonah Lomu” easily fended off Dan Biggar’s attempted tackle to touch down, Barrett nailing the touchline conversion.
The home side came roaring back, however, Taulupe Faletau stepping inside Sam Whitelock and returning a pass to Webb who darted over for a try Halfpenny converted, the full-back adding a penalty to hand Wales a 13-10 lead.
But then came New Zealand’s purple period when Wales fell off the pace. When hooker Dan Coles broke down the right flank, he fed McCaw who was held up just short of the line.
The ball went back to Barrett who drilled a kick the width of the pitch for Conrad Smith to gather and offload to Kaino to score.
Barrett missed the extras but Welsh advantage was handed back when McCaw was correctly deemed to have come into a ruck at the side, Halfpenny kicking the penalty.
It was real harum-scarum rugby, showcasing an incredible physicality, but it was a moment of silky skills from Barrett that put New Zealand back in front, the fly-half gathering his own chip over a flat defence to touch down, replacement Slade converting to make it 22-16.
Welsh woe deepened when Read charged down Mike Phillips’ attempted touchfinder, gathered and scored in the corner, and Barrett notched up the visitors’ fifth try after another wonderful crossfield kick.
– © AFP 2014
Joe Schmidt ‘manned up’ to guide Ireland past Australia despite appendicitis15 of the best pics from Ireland’s cracker against Australia