Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane scored a brace of tries as the All Blacks claimed a 33-18 win over Wales in Cardiff on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
On more than one occasion this year, the All Blacks have found a way to win despite failing to completely convince, and that was the case once again at the Millennium Stadium.
Just one point separated the teams until New Zealand finally took control of proceedings when Anton Lienert-Brown and Ioane scored on either side of the hour mark, which opened up a decisive 15-point lead.
Prior to that point, Wales had played with immense passion and intent, while particularly fronting up on defence as New Zealand battled to establish any real rhythm to their play.
The visitors came under further pressure late in the game following a yellow card to captain Sam Whitelock, followed soon after by a try to Wales replacement Gareth Davies, but a superb try to Ioane in the 75th minute emphatically sealed the result.
After 40 minutes of regulation time in the opening stanza, the All Blacks looked set to take a 12-6 lead into the break, with Naholo having superbly finished off two crucial tries.
However, Wales would have certainly felt that they deserved more after dominating territory and possession for much of the first period, and they finally received due reward when centre Scott Williams dotted down with the final play of the half.
That 41st-minute try, coupled with two earlier penalties, enabled Wales to cut the deficit to just a solitary point, which was a far more accurate reflection of just how competitive proceedings had been.
Yet the All Blacks once again proved their class during a clinical second-half performance that enabled them to claim an important season-ending win.
Wales – Tries: Scott Williams, Gareth Davies. Conversion: Leigh Halfpenny. Penalties: Dan Biggar, Halfpenny.
All Blacks – Tries: Waisake Naholo (2), Anton Lienert-Brown, Rieko Ioane (2). Conversions: Beauden Barrett (4).
Wales – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Steff Evans, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Hallam Amos, 10 Dan Biggar 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Subs: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Jamie Roberts
All Blacks – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images