Wales fell to a 30th consecutive defeat to World Champions New Zealand in an entertaining encounter in Cardiff on Saturday night.
The hosts failed to convert pressure into points, and were made to pay dearly as, true to form, the All Blacks made the most of every half-break, and pulled well clear in the final quarter.
Wales delivered a bright start, but had only three points to show for their efforts when, somewhat against the rung of play, gargantuan winger Waisake Naholo received a looping pass from Aaron Smith and squeezed just inside the corner flag to touch down. It was an opportunist score that demonstrated just how devastating the All Blacks can be on turnover ball.
Naholo added a second on 38 minutes, before Wales finally breached the whitewash as half-time beckoned. Hallam Amos bamboozled the New Zealand defence with a rapier angle, and quick hands saw Scott Williams dive for the line to register a much-needed seven-pointer to keep Wales in touch. This is probably the best try I’ve seen Wales score in 2017.
The game’s decisive moment came on 61 minutes when Kiwi superstar Reiko Ioane intercepted a loose pass from Dan Biggar and scorched under the posts, unopposed. Wales had butchered several try-scoring opportunities by this point, and Ioane’s score signalled the game was probably safe for the visitors. Indeed, Gareth Davies’ late reply was soon cancelled out by Ioane’s second, handing New Zealand a 33-18 victory.
The World Champions showed their superiority on Saturday, but overall I am very pleased with Wales’ contribution to this game. Few would argue there are real signs that Wales are trying to reinvent their attacking game, and if they can improve on accuracy and cut out the handling errors, they have the right players to deliver a feast of exciting, attacking rugby. With England, Ireland and Scotland all having enjoyed very successful autumn campaigns, Wales are likely to go into the Six Nations as underdogs come February. However, with one game remaining for Wales – against South Africa, this Saturday – there is still time to experiment with some new player combinations and further develop their new style. A victory would certainly be a big statement from Wales following a gruelling November series.
Player of the Week
Hands down, Josh Navidi. The lynchpin of the Cardiff Blues back-row is finally enjoying his first real breakthrough into the Wales squad after making his first appearance in 2013, and waiting four years to win his second cap, against Tonga earlier in the year. With Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Ross Moriarty and Ellis Jenkins all out injured at the beginning of the autumn, Navidi has grabbed his chance with both hands and has created a real headache for the selectors with a series of barnstorming, abrasive performances. Of course, he’s being doing this for the Blues for years. Long may he continue.
Team of the Week
Scotland put 53 points on Australia on the weekend, Gregor Townsend’s men running riot after the Wallabies had prop Sekope Kepu red-carded for a shoulder barge on Hamish Watson. The Scots take my team of the week award – expect them to take their rich form into next year’s Six Nations campaign.