New Zealand A vs Wales A
11th November, 2000
Millenium Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: some english git who has dreams of being a Headmaster
NZ A 30 - Wales A 9
Well it's a win, and we'll gladly accept it!
It was almost a completely different NZ A team to the one that lost to the French Barbarians mid-week. By my calculations Jerry Collins, Caleb Ralph, Scott McLeod and Ben Blair were the only players to start in both games. This meant that there were lots of new combinations in the team.
The welsh team were pretty strong, interestingly they had quite a few first choice Wales players in the team, even though the top welsh side plays Samoa tomorrow.
The commentators reckoned that Graeme Henry (welsh coach) was hedging his bets that he could come up with two wins on the weekend if he stacked this team a bit, there was talk that the Samoan team was not that strong so they could afford to do that. Personally I hope the Samoans thump them for that sort of attitude!
With Wales A up 9-3 with about 15 minutes to go and deserving to be ahead, due to their better ball retention and control of the tight stuff it was looking pretty ugly for NZ A.
Some fresh legs in the NZ pack and a tiring Wales defence let us get a roll on though, intially resulting in two penalty kicks for Ben Blair (he was 5-5 on the night and cool and calm under pressure) and then opened up the Welsh defence for three good tries in the last 10 minutes to make it look comfortable.
Overall not a convincing performance with quite a few turnovers from the NZ team, especially in back play, but I guess we can't be too harsh on that when the team is such a mix of guys with no real tried and true combinations (apart from Holwell and Spice) to speak of and also the Welsh defence was very much in their faces all night.
Stand out players for either side were pretty hard to find, but equally no one had a shocker.
I thought Chris Jack and Dion Waller did well in the lineouts and some of the kickoffs, but Jack in particular struggled in general play, he has trouble getting low enough when driving the ball up and tends to get driven and folded back onto his support which makes for very messy ball for the halfback.
Holwell and Spice played pretty well, and Blair's kicking was excellent. All the loosies went ok, although I thought Vanesi was the only one who played in control, Jerry Collins and Kelvin Middleton were both guilty of trying to do too much with the ball in the tackle, throwing speculating passes instead of just taking it to ground and setting up.
The ref was a complete control freak, lecturing the players at the breakdown rather than talking to them during the play. He really had trouble with the scrums and at one point sent off both tighthead props because he was sick of the scrums going down. There was a great shot of the props chatting as they went to the bin, the conversation looked to be something along the lines of:
Wales A prop - "What is this plonker of a ref's problem?"
NZ A Prop - "Bugger'd if I know mate, but you are right, he is a complete tosser! Must be a pommie..."
Fortunately he didn't really have an affect on the result, but overall I think the NZ team will be disappointed with the way the game went, but it will go down as a win and that's the main thing!