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All Blacks need 3 late tries to beat Wales 34-16

November 22, 2014

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — One of sport’s greatest hoodoos remains intact after New Zealand scored three tries in the final 11 minutes to beat Wales 34-16 and complete a sweep of victories on its end-of-season tour on Saturday.

The Welsh had a great chance to break a painful run of 25 straight losses to the All Blacks stretching back 51 years when they went ahead 16-15 in the 67th minute through Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty.

New Zealand looked rattled under the Millennium Stadium roof but struck back with its best passage of rugby in a patchy three weeks in Europe, with flyhalf Beauden Barrett’s two tries sandwiching No. 8 Kieran Read’s score from a chargedown as Wales’ defense caved in.

“The Welsh turned up today,” said Richie McCaw, who captained New Zealand for the 100th time. “We had to play for 80 minutes.”

This was anything but a cruise for the world champions, yet they overcame a wobbly display by still scoring five tries. Wales’ intensity dropped in that crucial final period and New Zealand is the best around at exploiting a weakness.

“There were periods today when we rattled them. They looked rattled (with 15 minutes left),” Wales coach Warren Gatland said. “But they came through it, and that’s why they are the best team in the world.”

It was another hard-luck story for the Welsh, who have lost 22 straight games against the southern hemisphere’s big three stretching back to 2008 and are without a win against the All Blacks since 1953.

For a proud rugby nation, that is a painful statistic — especially considering the great teams Wales has had, particularly in the 1970s — but there was pride among the coaching staff and captain Sam Warburton at how they matched the All Blacks for more than an hour and forced them into uncharacteristic errors.

With the score at 3-3 after a bruising first half and a passionate Welsh crowd genuinely sensing an upset, New Zealand came out quickly after the restart and Julian Savea collected a wonderful behind-the-back pass from Conrad Smith — delivered first-time under pressure from a tackler — to burrow over in the left corner for his 30th try in 33 tests.

Crucially, Wales reacted within three minutes through scrumhalf Rhys Webb’s try from an offload by No. 8 Toby Faletau and a conversion and penalty by Halfpenny gave the hosts a 13-10 lead.

Jerome Kaino gathered an inside pass from Smith for New Zealand’s second try in the 63rd but Halfpenny nailed another penalty to restore Wales’ lead. That was when the tourists turned on the style.

“The effort they (Wales) put into the first 65 minutes was very, very good but at some point you pay a price for it,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. “You are asking your team to have that much intensity the whole match. That’s impossible.”

Barrett, picked ahead of Aaron Cruden and Dan Carter, produced a moment of magic to dig the All Blacks out of a hole, chipping over the defense and collecting the ball that bounced sideways in front of Halfpenny to score under the crossbar in the 69th.

Read charged down replacement scrumhalf Mike Phillips’ clearing kick to gather and dive over three minutes later, and Barrett completed the victory in the 76th with his second try following another incisive kick to the corner.

New Zealand has swept a November series for the second straight year, also beating England 24-21 and Scotland 24-16, and has lost just twice since winning the World Cup in 2011. And in McCaw, it has a captain whose longevity continues to astound.

“It’s a remarkable achievement,” Hansen said of McCaw reaching a century of tests as captain, at the same stadium where he took charge of the All Blacks for the first time 10 years ago. “I don’t think in any other contact sport it has ever been done.”

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New Zealand 34 (Beauden Barrett 2, Julian Savea, Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read tries; Barrett conversion, penalty, Colin Slade 2 conversions), Wales 16 (Rhys Webb try; Leigh Halfpenny conversion, 3 penalties). HT: 3-3.