In the latest edition of our series, we look back at this week in history and pick out a key moment from rugby’s archives.
This week we’re going back twelve years to when Wales came agonisingly close to ended their barren run against the All Blacks, losing by a point in Cardiff.
November 20, 2004
1953 was the last time Wales managed to topple the All Blacks but half a century later they came bitterly close to ending that run, hosting New Zealand in Cardiff and captained by Gareth Thomas. And it might have happened, were it not for a disastrous breakdown in communication.
Thomas, assuming there was injury time to come on the stadium clock, which in fact showed the correct time on the referee’s watch, instructed Gavin Henson to kick at goal with five minutes left, with Wales down by just four and fully capable of kicking to the corner.
Henson delivered, but still unaware of the clock, Stephen Jones kicked the ball away in the 79th minute and Wales never had another chance.
The confusion of the final minutes actually took the shine off a classic contest, with Joe Rokocoko scoring two tries as the All Blacks handed first caps to scrum-half Piri Weepu and centre Casey Laulala, in Richie McCaw’s first game as captain.
Tom Shanklin struck first after Jones and Carter had traded penalties, the Wales wing latching onto Dwayne Peel’s box kick behind the defence with the ball bouncing in his favour.
New Zealand wasted little time in responding, exploiting the overlap perfectly with a cut-out pass before Mils Muliaina laid up the assist for Rokocoko to add another Test try to his name.
Wales though were ahead at the break, a third Jones penalty from right infront giving Wales a 14-13 lead by half-time.
This was a day were the Welsh pack were outstanding, attacking New Zealand around the fringes and eventually profitting with a try for Mefin Davies as the All Blacks’ defensive line finally broke.
Again the response from the visitors was swift, Mose Tuiali’i’s power and Carter’s offload releasing Muliaina to add to his assist with a try.
The best score was still to come. Flinging the ball wide just outside their 22, Laulala times his pass perfectly to Rokocoko, brilliantly fooling Thomas by motioning as if he was about to chip ahead before instead swerving infield and using his speed to score his second try.
Wales kept in touch with another penalty, before that key decision to go for points over the corner with little time left. Of course this is hypothetical, but given how the Welsh pack had performed that day, a match-winning try was far from out of the question.
The win though was New Zealand’s and Wales have never been as close since, losing 41-3 the following year.
Tries: Shanklin, Davies
Pens: Henson 2, Jones 3
For New Zealand:
Tries: Rokocoko 2, Muliaina
Pens: Carter 3
Wales: 15 Gareth Thomas (c), 14 Tom Shanklin, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Michael Owen, 7 Colin Charvis, 6 Dafydd Jones, 5 Gareth Llewellyn, 4 Brent Cockbain, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Gethin Jenkins
Replacements: 16 Steve Jones, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Ryan Jones, 19 Martyn Williams, 20 Gareth Cooper, 21 Ceri Sweeney, 22 Rhys Williams
New Zealand: 15 Mils M Muliaina, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Rodney So’oialo, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Chris Jack, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Anton Oliver, 17 Carl Hayman, 18 Reuben Thorne, 19 Marty Holah, 20 Byron Kelleher, 21 Ma’a Nonu, 22 Rico Gear
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)