Autumn Nations Series: Five takeaways from Wales v New Zealand as Ardie Savea and Aaron Smith shine for ‘sensational’ All Blacks

James While
All Blacks on pitch

Following a 55-23 victory for New Zealand over Wales in their Autumn Nations Series fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the match in Cardiff on Saturday.

The top line

Blessed with pace and power from 1 to 23, New Zealand simply blew Wales off the pitch at the Principality Stadium as they repeated a half century of points for the second year, winning in an incredible display of running rugby.

There was no shame in the Welsh performance, but put simply, they were beaten at scrum, lineout, breakdown, defence and in the aerial battle and were blown away by a world class side playing at the apex of their considerable ability.

The pace of the All Black ruck ball was breathtaking to behold; their speed of thought in every aspect of play was stunning at times and, above all, their commitment in ‘defending to attack’ was a lesson in precision rugby.

Ardie Savea was the pundit’s choice of Player of the Match for his 12 tackles, 15 carries and try, but for the rugby purist, the performance of ‘Te Nug’, the great Aaron Smith, becoming New Zealand‘s most capped back in this match, was absolutely defining – a lesson in half-back play rarely seen in Cardiff since the days of the great Gareth Edwards.

The All Blacks looked sensational, but Wales had their moments and can wall away with their head held high. They were simply beaten by a better side in all departments.

Collision at the heart

Everyone knows just how good the All Black handling is and to overcome them it is essential to beat them in the collision. Wales can look back at their failings but, without question, it was their failure to challenge that gainline and tackle area that was the biggest issue in their performance.

With a lightweight back-row and two specialists sevens selected they conceded a lot of poundage in midfield. The hosts were absolutely beasted in contact – and Wales will reflect that they don’t have many power options in their locker to change things up. Post-match, skipper Justin Tipuric rued the number of times that the All Blacks managed to get behind their defence and take the game into scramble situations, something that New Zealand thrive on.

Wayne Pivac revealed that Tommy Reffell is carrying some sore ribs and with Tipuric leading the team Wales might very well look at starting Christ Tshiunza next week on the blindside flank to give muscle to their loose trio.

Savea and Smith

Eight and nine are two of the orchestraters of any side and on Saturday, Savea and Smith conducted an absolute symphony of attacking rugby. Since the return of Richie Mo’unga, Smith, with a controlling 10 behind him, has rejuvenated his play and is back to the absolute peak of his power. The pressure he placed upon his opposite number, Tomos Williams, was extreme and at times, completely disconnected any chance of clean scrum or ruck ball. With his pack in dominant form, the New Zealand ruck speed was absolutely dazzling, sub two seconds for the match, giving Smith and Savea so much space in which to roam.

Savea’s outrageous dummy after 46 minutes took out Reffell and Alun Wyn Jones and rumour has it that the traffic on the nearby M4 stopped too. With Wayne Barnes possibly acting as a tackle blocker, Smith went over for the purist’s try of the day. But whilst this was Savea the showman, Savea the workman side saw him a perpetual nuisance at the breakdown, stealing and slowing to offer a complete game at eight.

New Zealand’s ethos is they defend with the aim to score tries – with players like Savea in their side that can do both to world class level, they are finally looking like the All Blacks we’re so used to seeing.

Little moments

Wales haven’t beaten the All Blacks for almost 70 years and in their last two meetings they’ve conceded a half century of points at home. Nevertheless, as habitually slow starters in the end-of-year Tests, they still might look back upon this game and take pride in a number of little moments of promise.

Their lineout work was up to scratch and when they managed to get front foot ball, they showed pace in attack even if they lacked power. In the centres Nick Tompkins was a bundle of spiky intent – strong in defence and with memorable moments in attack. He was, alongside Williams and Adam Beard, Wales’ best player by some distance and was unlucky not to be rewarded for some sparkling midfield running. Williams’ chip kick to set up Tipuric’s try was a lovely moment of invention and offered the vocal home fans hope of a comeback just after the break.

Rio Dyer had a debut to remember too, crossing for Wales’ opening try and defending well at times, but both he and Louis Rees-Zammit should be looking to run support lines from places other than their own wing.

Looking forward

New Zealand will travel to Murrayfield next week in fine voice and with oodles of confidence. To play one Barrett is scary enough but Ian Foster’s experiment of playing all three together, with Jordie at 12, proved a worthy plan. He mentioned, post match, that Scott was starting to put pressure on the regular starting locks and he will be excited at the prospect of repeating the selection at Murrayfield.

With no injuries from the match and with two from two on their 2022 tour, the All Blacks look near unstoppable and they will look forward to the next fortnight with great expectation.

For Wales, it’s a simple case of get some power into the game, with a secondary thought of getting a little more depth into their defensive system. Today, they played a 13-2 defensive system, using width to prevent the pace of the All Blacks on the wings, but given the ease that the visitors got through their gainline in the middle of the pitch they may well be better to play a much deeper style – perhaps 12-1-2, with the nine sweeping, in the future. With Argentina next weekend, their gainline will be tested once again and it’s imperative they get some beef and some power into their primary contact work.

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: All Blacks maintain dominance over Wales with comfortable win in Cardiff