Wales’ wait for a victory over New Zealand goes on after they were vanquished 26-25 by the All Blacks in a titanic battle at the Millennium Stadium.
Mike Ruddock’s men gave Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, the two previous Wales coaches now in charge of New Zealand, a distinctly uncomfortable return to Cardiff but the All Blacks’ incisive edge eventually proved conclusive.
The bare facts are that the All Blacks overturned an 11-3 deficit to edge ahead and keep a battling Wales at bay with two tries from Joe Rokocoko, a score from Mils Muliaina and Daniel Carter’s 11 points.
But the mere statistics do not tell the story of Wales’ bravery, heart and fight as they pushed the All Blacks right to the death. Their position as one of the major forces in world rugby has been confirmed, but their hunt for a major scalp goes on.
They had begun with fire in their bellies, desperate to end a losing run against the All Blacks which stretches back 51 years, and opened that 11-3 lead with a cleverly-worked try from Tom Shanklin.
The All Blacks responded with Rokocoko claiming a controversial score when Sonny Parker appeared to have been impeded but, through the boot of the excellent Stephen Jones, Wales retained a one-point lead heading into half-time.
Hooker Mefin Davies dived over just after half time to extend that advantage to 19-13 before Mils Muliaina and Rokocoko stung Wales inside eight minutes.
Roared on by a packed house desperate to witness a slice of Welsh rugby history, Gareth Thomas’ men refused to buckle, but Gavin Henson’s two penalties were not quite enough to earn Wales the win their determination and passion deserved.
They had fallen short again by the tightest of margins.
Wales: G Thomas (captain); T Shanklin, S Parker, G Henson, S Williams; Stephen Jones, D Peel; G Jenkins, M Davies, A Jones, B Cockbain, G Llewellyn, Dafydd Jones, C Charvis, M Owen.
Replacements: Steven Jones, Duncan Jones, R Jones, M Williams, G Cooper, C Sweeney.
New Zealand: M Muliaina; D Howlett, C Laulala, A Mauger, J Rokocoko; Daniel Carter, P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, G Somerville, C Jack, A Williams, R So’oialo, R McCaw (captain), M Tuiali’i.
Replacements: A Oliver, C Hayman, R Thorne, M Holah, B Kelleher, Ma’a Nonu, R Gear.