The All Blacks produced a superior second-half showing to thump Wales 36-22 in Wellington and take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result of Saturday's match, as well as that of the series, will not come as a surprise. The All Blacks won at the Cake Tin on Saturday. Their second consecutive win earned them a series victory against a spirited yet limited Wales outfit.
The scores were level at half-time. Those who hadn't seen this movie before may believed that a Welsh win was a possibility.
Indeed, Wales were at their physical best in the first half. They stretched the All Blacks defence on several occasions. Their own defence rattled the hosts at the collisions and breakdowns.
Jonathan Davies featured twice in the buildup to Alun Wyn Jones's try at the end of the first half. Jamie Roberts made some big defensive hits for the visitors, the first of which forced Malakai Fekitoa to limp off the field.
The implementation of Wales' kicking game, however, was poor. They attempted to put the All Blacks under pressure with a series of high balls and chips behind the hosts' defence. Too often these kicks were too long or were poorly chased.
One wayward kick by the visitors in the 20th minute handed the All Blacks the opportunity to counter-attack. Israel Dagg, playing in his first Test since July 2015, and his 50th game for the All Blacks, took the chance and surged upfield.
The All Blacks won a penalty, and decided to kick to touch. Wales countered their driving maul, but could not stop the hosts from scoring out wide. As fate would have it, Dagg was the man to dot down. The fullback threw a dummy before crossing the line and celebrating wildly.
Wales hit back on the stroke of half-time, and Dan Biggar completed a touchline conversion. At 10-10, they were still in the contest.
However, as was the case in the first Test, and has been the case in so many matches against top-flight southern hemisphere opposition, Wales failed to maintain their physical effort in the second half.
By contrast, the All Blacks moved up a gear. Beauden Barrett, on for Aaron Cruden who was stretchered off the field in the first half, provided the spark for the hosts.
The replacement flyhalf broke the Welsh line, and then found Ben Smith with a pass. Smith, who like Dagg was competing in his 50th Test, fended off a feeble tackle attempt and went through to score.
Three minutes later, Barrett contributed with a try of his own. Aaron Smith produced the rolling kick that put the Wales defence under pressure. The All Blacks' chasers managed to win a scrum 5m out from the Wales' tryline. From that set piece, the ball was shifted to Barrett, who pushed past a tired-looking Roberts.
Waisake Naholo was next to get onto the scoresheet. The All Blacks scrum fired again to provide the platform, and Kieran Read broke from the back. The No 8 drew several defenders before finding Aaron Smith, who in turn found Naholo on the left wing.
That try was quickly followed by a long-range effort by the hosts. Ardie Savea showed impressive footwork to beat the final defender and finish. The All Blacks were ahead 36-10 after 66 minutes, and had the result in the bag.
Wales scored two late tries, but this only served to add some respectability to the scoreline. That said, a 14-point defeat will disappoint the visitors. They were completely outclassed in the second stanza.
The final game of the three-Test series will be played in Dunedin next Saturday.
All Blacks – Tries: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett, Waisake Naholo, Ardie Savea. Conversions: Aaron Cruden, Barrett (3). Penalty: Cruden.
Wales – Tries: Alun Wyn Jones, Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies. Conversions: Dan Biggar (2). Penalty: Biggar.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Seta Tamanivalu.
Wales – 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Subs: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Ellis Jenkins, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Scott Williams.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images