November 20, 2014 Leave a comment
Wales have long dreamed about defeating the All Blacks. When they defeated New Zealand at the old Arms Park in 1953, they went 3-1 ahead in the series, never mind that all the matches had been played in Cardiff and Swansea.
It is the last match in 2014 for New Zealand who have not tended to finish with a flourish in recent years: they won with the last play of the game in Dublin last year, they were well beaten at Twickenham in 2012 and the previous year were a referee’s decision away from losing the World Cup final against France.
The Millennium Stadium is about more than Wales for the All Blacks, and not just because they will be playing two matches there in next year’s World Cup, assuming they finish in the top two in their group. It was in Cardiff in 2007 where they had an epiphany moment, losing to France in the quarter-finals of the World Cup and suffering their earliest exit from the tournament.
It was a day, never mind the refereeing decisions that did not go their way, when they finished the match in the manner of Wales and England today in the autumn international series, unable to fashion a way to win the match when a drop goal would have taken them into the last four.
There were two significant consequences. First, the coaching team was not sacked having failed to deliver the holy grail and, second, the players, led by the remarkable Richie McCaw who will on Saturday captain the All Blacks for the 100th time in a Test match, pointed out that responsibility was collective and that what happened at the Millennium Stadium was down to them as much as the management.
The upshot has been a more collaborative approach to the game between the players and management, something that has not been apparent with England this month. It is not as if the All Blacks play it one way, a team for all seasons.
Their record since the defeat to France seven years ago leaves them with an 87% success rate. The team second to them in the world rankings, South Africa, has a 66% success rate since the 2007 World Cup.
Which leaves Wales, whose record is just the right side of 50%, with as much chance as normal on Saturday. And yet. Ten of the side have started a Lion Test with an 11th on the bench, the vast majority have been part of two Six Nations title-winning campaigns and many were involved in the last World Cup when they finished fourth and were within a kick of reaching the final.
The Wakes head coach, Warren Gatland, is an All Black who knows what it takes to win. Back in 2010, after he had tried to give his players more decision-making responsibility, he had to take the reins after a poor run of performances.
He reflected that Welsh players preferred to be told what to do, which explains why they invariably come up short against the best in the world at the end of matches. Australia earlier this month should have been their epiphany moment. It is time they stopped hiding.