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Wales 10 New Zealand 33

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: November 26, 2012

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THE last time anyone checked, Julius Caesar didn't book his entry in the quotes of the year for 47 BC by declaring: "I came, I saw, I drew the second half 10-10 after losing the first 23-0".

Accepted, he wasn't facing the All Blacks.

And he didn't have to contend with a villain like Andrew Hore or short-sighted officials who missed the New Zealand hooker's sly foul on Bradley Davies.

Nonetheless, the probability is the leader of Italy when they used to put together long unbeaten runs would have taken only so much out of a brave defeat.

For Wales, it was the same old story against the All Blacks.

Plenty of endeavour, lots of spirit, lashings of passion, but never seriously in contention where it matters most — on the scoreboard.

It is understandable why coaches and players emphasise the positives, a week before another southern hemisphere side, Australia, visit the Millennium Stadium.

But the temptation is to tell all concerned to come back and regale us with the pluses when they can engage a high gear for 80 minutes rather than just half an hour after the match has already been settled as a contest.

Wales's perennial problem is that New Zealand and the other Sanzar sides never stand still.

Whenever Welsh coaches and players start believing they are closing the gap, they encounter another devastating change of gear which leaves them as far behind as ever.

To keep pace over the years, Wales have tried to load their pack with big forwards — recall Gareth Llewellyn being used at blindside in a ludicrous experiment by Alex Evans against New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup.

They have upped their fitness levels in the hope they can last games better.

And they have crammed their back division with giants who would once have been big enough to play at the heart of the Welsh pack.

They have even found two top-notch openside flankers to up their performance at the breakdown, the most important area in modern rugby.

But always the best keep one step ahead. On Saturday, New Zealand had forwards who handled the ball with the dexterity of backs.

When the visitors scored their first try, a prop, a No. 8 and a lock were involved in the chain of passes that ended with a blindside flanker crossing.

They had a tight-head prop, Owen Franks, who kept popping up at first receiver, while their two locks, Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock, passed the ball as often as Wales centres Jon Davies and Scott Williams.

"Isn't it amazing when a prop forward is comfortable in the stand-off position," said Jonathan Davies from the BBC commentary box.

Not really.

In New Zealand it happens.

They understand that muscle counts for only so much.

You need it for the basics of scrummaging, hitting hard in the tackle and making a heavy impression at rucks and mauls.

But Kiwis also understand the importance of skills and being able to execute them under pressure.

So we had the sight of Franks filling in for Aaron Cruden and sending out a pass which helped exploit an overlap. In New Zealand, no-one would have raised an eyebrow.

There was further evidence that the visitors from the other side of the world were playing a totally different game from the Welsh players.

At one point in the second half Wales had six players — James Hook, Justin Tipuric, Leigh Halfpenny, Luke Charteris, Liam Williams and Tavis Knoyle — involved in a ruck while the Kiwis were represented only by the peerless Richie McCaw.

Surprisingly, McCaw didn't win that one.

The All Blacks are selective about how many they commit to a breakdown — in contrast to the hosts, who seemed to pile in at every opportunity.

Truly, some sieges have probably been sorted out without need for the kind of numbers Wales send into rucks.

But fair play to Gatland. He had promised something different and he was as good as his word.

The 13-man line-out that yielded a try was risky, but innovative and effective. Shame Wales couldn't put 13 players into their scrum, really, given that it creaked for much of the game.

The problem with the line-out ploy was Wales wanted to use it early on but blew two chances when Rhys Priestland kicked two penalties dead.

Steve Hansen later dubbed the tactics "crazy" and suggested an explanation would have to be sought from The Messiah — the name Gatland had jokingly given himself during the build-up.

There is a case for arguing a conservative course would have served Wales better and shots at goal should have been taken.

But if Priestland hadn't messed up and Wales had crossed for a try it would have given them a huge lift early in the game. Maybe it boils down to how much of a gambler you are.

Whatever, New Zealand made Wales pay by racing into a 23-0 interval lead.

In all, Wales missed 17 tackles before the break, a calamitous stat even given the strength of the opposition.

Injuries blighted their effort throughout, with the Welsh team's physiotherapist treating nine different players during the match and running onto the field ten times, compared to his Kiwi counterpart being called into action just once.

It is hard for Gatland to consider changes for Australia because he has so few options.

A case could be made for leaving out Priestland, who reported after the match that he felt he had "played with blinkers on" against Argentina and Samoa and had got so down about it he had seen a sports psychiatrist.

But he wasn't much better against New Zealand and it is almost reaching the point where the coaches would be doing him a favour if they took him out of the firing line.

The trouble is, unless Dan Biggar is available this week, there is no-one else to come in, with James Hook heading back to France.

Bradley Davies looks likely to be out with concussion after Hore's cowardly attack in the first minute, when he hooked the lock from behind. Gatland said: "You don't associate the All Blacks with cheap shots".

But you do — ask Brian O'Driscoll after he saw his 2005 Lions tour come to grief at the hands of Tana Umaga.

Wales showed their character by dominating the last half an hour, after the All Blacks had subbed impressive scrum-half Aaron Smith and later removed Aaron Cruden.

Sam Warburton led the way with a series of powerful ball-carries, showing the kind of form that earned him so many plaudits at the World Cup, while Aaron Shingler and Mike Phillips provided fine support, with Jon Davies, Alex Cuthbert and Liam Williams all having their moments.

Justin Tipuric added an extra dimension with his all-round skills, and the question for Gatland is how to balance the need for ball-playing forwards in his pack with ball-winners.

But Wales look as far off the Kiwis as ever.

After Gatland's team scored their first try, an angry McCaw assembled all his players in a circle behind the try-line and proceeded to give them a piece of his mind. At the time, New Zealand were leading 33-5.

It isn't all about craving victories.

Hating defeat matters as well.

When the Baby Blacks lost in the final of the Junior World Championships this year, questions were asked in New Zealand about what had gone wrong.

If Wales had fallen at the same stage, we'd still be hearing hymns of praise to the players involved.

Crumbs of comfort are not always good for you.

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