Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Roberts ensured Wales ended their New Zealand tour with their heads held high as he crashed over for a try two minutes from time in a 29-10 defeat in Hamilton.
The 2009 British & Irish Lions centre rounded off a long period of pressure in the home 22 to grab Wales’ first try in the two games and ensure there was a vast improvement on the 42-9 defeat the previous weekend in Dunedin.
Had Wales not conceded a try to Aaron Cruden in the last move of the game their coach Warren Gatland would have left his home town feeling even more content.
Cruden replaced Dan Carter in the final quarter and chipped through to the Welsh line in the final attack of the game and took advantage of a wicked bounce that left Welsh full back Lee Byrne confused and red faced as it went past him to allow the replacement outside half to pick up a sucker score.
Carter had punished Welsh indiscipline throughout the game and ended with 17 points from five penalties and a conversion of wing Cory Jane’s first half try.
The All Blacks led 13-3 at the break, with the final three points coming with the last kick of the half after Byrne had been given a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. Leigh Halfpenny got the only Welsh points with a long range penalty, but outside half Dan Biggar should have hit the mark with another much closer kick.
In Dunedin the Welsh resistance fell apart in the second half, but this time the tackling was more secure and their scrum got on top of the home pack and gave the visitors a real launch pad.
The Roberts try was no less than Wales deserved and Stephen Jones added the wide angled conversion before Cruden’s cruel final salvo, converted by Piri Weepu, rounded off proceedings.
“We expected it to be hard fought and it was a tough test match. It was safe enough in the end but we struggled to get our game going,” said All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.
“It would have been nice to stop them crossing our line, but we had pretty good defence for a while. They had a good idea what they were doing at scrum time and that’s something we will have to work on.
“We have played some good rugby in parts in our three games to date and we are pretty happy where we are going into the Tri Nations.”
This latest defeat means Wales are still waiting for their first win over New Zealand since 1953. But they will at least return to Hamilton for next year’s World Cup with their heads held high.
“All week we spoke about trying to gain some respect. We were bitterly disappointed at how we fell off some tackles last week,” explained Jonathan Thomas, who took over the captaincy after Ryan Jones had limped off with a thigh injury.
“We played with better intensity this week and we were more competitive in aspects of the game. We were disappointed with the try in the end but. Having been criticised for our fitness last week, I think we showed there isn’t too much of a problem there.
“We just need to keep on learning and improving. We had a great reception in Hamilton and we are looking forward to coming back here in 12 months and try to be even more competitive.”