By Rob Cole
Tell me the same old story – up and at them, stretch them to the limit, dominate possession and territory . . . but fail to score!
And so Wales fell to a 30th straight defeat to the mighty All Blacks, who were supposed to be at their most vulnerable for many years. Not a bit of it. The world champions soaked up the pressure, took the best shots Wales had to throw at them and then hit back . . . with try after try.
It was five tries to two in the end and 33-18 on the scoreboard. Wales huffed, puffed and, at one stage in the first half at least, looked capable of blowing down the Kiwis’ house.
But with a brace of tries from each of their blockbusting wings, Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane, Steve Hansen’s side were able to end their year on a high and complete yet another unbeaten tour of the northern hemisphere.
Had Leigh Halfpenny been able to nail his touchline conversion of Scott Williams’ sensational try at the end of the first half Wales would have gone into the break 13-12 ahead. Instead they trailed by a point and that was as good as it got.
That try by Williams, his 11th for Wales on his 50th appearance, was set-up by a slashing midfield break by Hallam Amos. The Dragons wing had earlier dropped a pass that would surely have earned an earlier try had it gone to hand when Wales dominated the ball and the territory.
The statistics in the opening stanza will probably have the Welsh analysts salivating when they seek some salvation in the de-brief on Monday. It should have the coaches tearing out their hair at their side’s inability to turn pressure into points.
Alun Wyn Jones’ side were great getting up to the line. They just couldn’t get over it. Then, at the other end, the All Blacks struck when they got the mere whiff of a chance.
Aaron Smith’s long pass for Naholo’s first try edged the visitors 7-3 ahead and there was another from the wing before the break. The second half then turned into the Ioane show as he picked up an interception try, powered over for a second and made the running for replacement centre Anton Lienert-Brown to grab another.
The Welsh response was full of character at the end of the first-half as Amos was put through a hole by a neat wrap-around move by Dan Biggar and Owen Williams. The wing veered to the left to link up with Scott Williams, who easily finished in the corner.
There was a second Welsh try after the break from replacement scrum half Gareth Davies, but there should have been more. Will there ever be another win against New Zealand?
It is now 64 years and counting and however close Wales have got to adding to the three wins they picked up in the first four meetings between the two countries, there has been no cigar to enjoy.
There were some positive individual performances to praise. Josh Navidi proved he is no longer the boy in waiting and could be the man to take Wales forward in the Six Nations.
His powerful running was one of the stand-out features of another outstanding game – 14 Tackles, 14 Runs, 37 Metres Made – and he is going to put pressure on Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric in the New Year. He also proved he can work in harmony with Taulupe Faletau, who was once again superb from start to finish.
Owen Williams has shown he can fill the playmaker role in midfield and looks set for an extended run. Scott Williams also had one of his best games for a long while outside him.
Warren Gatland is finally getting more out of his front five in ball carrying and handling, but the fear is it could all be too little, too late judging by the way Welsh results have gone this autumn compared to Ireland, Scotland and England. Will there be a final hurrah in the 2017 Under Armour Series against the Springboks?
Wales could certainly do with it!