It was all heartbreak in Cardiff as the city set about anaesthetizing painful memories of yet another valiant loss to the All Blacks – which probably showed where they stand in the World Order of Rugby teams in 2017. All that pluck, all that fizzing spirit, all that skittish running and probing came to naught as New Zealand showed their class to come through a testing challenge with a brace of tries apiece for their wingers, Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo.
So cancel that wake. Put away the black armbands. Reports of the demise of New Zealand rugby have been greatly exaggerated. Once again the All Blacks absorbed punishment to strike hard with two tries within five minutes midway through the second half, rounding off in some style, Ioane getting his second when New Zealand were reduced to 14 men with captain Sam Whitelock in the sin bin.
There had been plenty of hope swirling around the packed Cardiff streets prior to kick-off, but only of the fingers-crossed variety.
New Zealand may have been filleted by injury but history was against Wales. A huge slab of imposing precedent, no win in 29 tests (15 of them in Cardiff) stretching back over 64 years, indicated that Wales would have to rise to a sustained level to cause an upset.
And they did. They took the game to the All Blacks, hitting hard, punching forward before fizzing it wide. After half an hour, Wales had a remarkable 80-20% advantage in terms of possession, and had forced New Zealand to make 81 tackles to 11 of their own, yet still they trailed.
That’s why New Zealand are world champions. They could take you apart in pieces or they counter-punch ruthlessly. But Wales did not wilt, did not stop believing as Scott Williams’ try on the stroke of half-time following a big bust by Hallam Amos showed.
It all makes for an intriguing 2018 season, with tickets for their big match against possibly the second best team in the world AUstralia selling fast – click here to see if there are still any left! After that comes the World Cup, and another chance to beat the All Blacks – with a bit of luck they just might get there…