Ravi Nyayapati –
The All Blacks began a new chapter on June 11 following the retirement of six stalwarts of the game, including the legendary Richie McCaw.
Captain Kieran Read and his men in Black overcame early jitters to beat a tenacious Wales side 39-21 at Eden Park in Auckland.
The rustiness prevalent in the first match of the previous season haunted the team again as the they played under only their second Captain in ten years.
The All Blacks showcased moments of brilliance but these were overshadowed by a comedy of errors and poor ball handling skills, giving impetus to a stubborn Welsh side to retain a consistent lead for most of the match.
At half-time, Wales led 18-15, following tries by Number eight Toby Faletau and scrum-half Rhys Webb.
The second try by Webb followed a consecutive long range burst by Wales fullback Liam Williams after Ben Smith dropped a high kick inside his own half.
Wales graciously capitalised on the fumble with superbly controlled phase play.
Much to the anxiety of a packed Eden Park crowd the start of the second half saw the same subdued performance by the home team, with the All Blacks playing catch-up and giving the combative Welsh a sense of belief that they could re-write record books to end the 63-year losing streak against New Zealand.
The timely introduction of Patrick Tuipulotu and Ardie Savea shifted the momentum.
Fiji-born Waisake Naholo’s second try of the night gave the home team the lead, with only 20 minutes remaining.
Naholo was on song using his electric pace to his advantage, making up for ball watching in the first half that contributed to Wales’ first try.
Good, at last
The final try by Nathan Harris came seconds before the final whistle and thereby extend the final score. Read, who passed his captaincy test, along with Julain Savea scored the other tries. New first choice five-eighth Aaron Cruden slotted in four conversions and two penalties.
Yet again, the All Blacks showed their bench strength and ability to dominate in the last quarter. They head to Wellington with nerves settled and clearly knowing what changes are needed to raise the bar.
New Zealand’s sensational relationship with referee Wayne Blacks’ appears to have no ending. This time he disallowed a try citing a debatable forward pass by Cruden. Luckily, this has no influence on the result of the game.
New Zealand 39 (W. Naholo 2, J. Savea, K. Read, N. Harris tries; A. Cruden 2 penalties, 4 conversions) Wales 21 (T. Faletau, R. Webb tries; D. Biggar 3 penalties, 1 conversion). Halftime: 15-18
The All Blacks came back to win against Wales at Eden Park in Auckland on June 11.