15. Leigh Halfpenny – 6
Coughed up one off-load in the first half, but Halfpenny looked more dangerous with ball in hand than he has over the past fortnight, displaying skillful link-play when joining the line. A last-gasp tackle on a rampaging Julian Savea deserves mention, too.
14. Alex Cuthbert – 5
Bad positioning saw the Cardiff Blue trip over the touchline from a routine New Zealand clearance and there were some hapless moments in defence as Conrad Smith snaked into space ahead of him. That said, Cuthbert remains an exceptional attacker and, aside from his late score, there were glimpses of speed as he looked for work in fractured play.
13. Jonathan Davies – 5
A tale of Jekyll and Hyde befell Davies on his return to the international fray. One delicious clean break brought Cardiff to its feet in the first period and his elusive running was very welcome after the bluntness of Wales’ recent defeats. However, the Scarlet’s tackling was a different story – five misses is simply not good enough.
12. Jamie Roberts – N/A
Worryingly, Roberts departed early once more, this time due to a hip problem. He needs to stay fit to be considered for the trip to Australia.
11. Liam Williams – 5½
Williams’ flowing locks channel JPR, and a couple of wholehearted hits in the opening minutes did, too – especially the one that stopped Israel Dagg in his tracks. Admirable enthusiasm and verve with ball in hand as well, although shaky under the high ball.
10. Rhys Priestland – 4
The cheer that erupted upon Priestland’s substitution was cruel – in the brief moments he was on the front foot, there were some decisive moments. Even so, infuriating lapses in composure remained. A pair of missed touch-finders was almost embarrassing.
9. Mike Phillips – 6
If Phillips lacked a bit of subtlety around the fringes – getting caught at the base a couple of times by the All Blacks’ razor-sharp back row (who had Craig Joubert in their pocket) – he made up for it with ferocity in defence and a whole lot more, including a couple of surprise line-out takes.
1. Paul James – 5
Knocked on comically with New Zealand in trouble and had a couple of scrumagging problems opposite Owen Franks, but James is a big-hearted bruiser that Warren Gatland can rely on. Injured himself whipping out a dive-pass in the third quarter, which aptly sums up his effort.
2. Matthew Rees – 4
Largely accurate throwing could not mask Rees’ lack of dynamism around the field, something that was underlined further the energy that Ken Owens brought from the bench.
3. Aaron Jarvis – N/A
A victim of the visitors’ aggression at the breakdown, tighthead Jarvis was denied a chance to test himself against the best after twisting a knee in the opening stages.
4. Bradley Davies – N/A
Davies’ evening ended swiftly thanks to a sickening cheap-shot from Andrew Hore. His burly power was missed.
5. Luke Charteris – 5
The Perpignan giant so often splits opinion and this was another occasion that failed to convince, despite consistency at set-piece and the odd contribution in the loose. Easily out-played by the pairing of Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano.
6. Ryan Jones – 4
Simply overwhelmed in the face of New Zealand’s menacing pack, Jones was forced backwards in all facets of play upon moving to lock following Davies’ fate. The autumn absence of Dan Lydiate has been costly.
7. Sam Warburton – 6½
Much better from the skipper, who figured prominently in the positive aspects of Wales’ performance. Whether passing, taking line-outs, carrying hard, or scavenging on the deck, Warburton was far more influential. Wrongly pinged by Craig Joubert for a first-half penalty and overrun by Richie McCaw, but made a step towards redemption. May get flak for kicking to touch from penalties, but that was the only way Wales were going to get close – it wasn’t his fault that Priestland hoofed it dead.
8. Toby Faletau – 6
Many more clashes with the world’s best lie in wait for this impressive 22 year-old. Made 80 of the hardest metres in town and tackled his heart out. Can hold his head high and hope for a final flourish against the Wallabies.
Replacements: With the Millennium Stadium surface resembling a battlefield full of fallen soldiers throughout, each of Gatland’s back-up men were called upon. Most enhanced their reputations, too – Scott Andrews was industrious, Owens effective and Aaron Shingler persistent. Direct running lines meant Scott Williams was the best of the bunch, though, with the centre also benefiting from a bizarre 13-man line-out to notch Wales’ opening try.
15.Israel Dagg – 8½, 14. Cory Jane – 6, 13. Conrad Smith – 8, 12. Ma’a Nonu – 7, 11. Julian Savea – 8, 10. Aaron Cruden – 7½, 9. Aaron Smith – 8; 1. Tony Woodcock – 6, 2. Andrew Hore – 7, 3 Owen Franks – 7, 4. Luke Romano – 7½, 5. Sam Whitelock – 7, 6. Liam Messam – 8, 7. Richie McCaw – 9, 8. Kieran Read – 7.
On his 115th appearance in black, Richie McCaw grabbed the loudest plaudits. There are absolutely no superlatives left to attach to the peerless openside, and Saturday evening featured another all-action masterclass – albeit helped by his familiarity with Joubert’s whistle-blowing style.
Elsewhere, the All Blacks’ tight-five were teak-tough, allowing Liam Messam to roam around spoiling Welsh attacks. At halfback, Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden produced spark and skill in equal measure, while Conrad Smith was superb outside of that, bringing his exceptional back three into the game. Combining to devastating effect, Israel Dagg and Julian Savea will terrorise the Test arena together for the next decade.