SYDNEY — In the 40th and final pool game of the 2003 Rugby World Cup played at a cold Telstra Stadium on Sunday night, New Zealand beat Wales 53-37 in a cracker of a game.
With end-to-end action and both sides running the ball at every opportunity, Joe Rokocoko, Doug Howlett and Shane Williams carried on where Fijian Rupeni Caucau left off on Saturday, giving the crowd of 80,012 a wonderful lesson in the art of wing play, on an evening when the teams combined to score 90 points.
“No one gave us a chance,” said Williams. “We showed enough passion and pride and we showed the critics.”
Rokocoko scored within 90 seconds of the start and added a second in the 14th minute and Howlett scored two tries in the second half but even they were upstaged by their Welsh counterpart.
At just 173 cm and 78 kg, the diminutive wing was anything but overawed by the famed men in black and showed amazing footwork and pace to help Wales score three first-half tries through Mark Taylor, Sonny Parker (cousin of Japan’s Adam Parker) and Colin Charvis before finally being rewarded with one of his own in the second half as the Welsh produced one of their best performances in years.
The game had everything. Niggle in the forwards; an Aussie Rules style catch from Ali Williams that saw the lock score from a clever kick by Carlos Spencer; superb running from the backs and a wonderful display of kicking from Stephen Jones and Leon MacDonald, who recently announced he was moving to Japan to play for Yamaha.
Following the All Blacks’ whirlwind start, the game was then held up for close on 10 minutes while Welsh fullback Garan Evans was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious neck injury, though the delay seemed to allow the Welsh to settle themselves and Evans’ replacement Gareth Thomas had a storming game for the Welsh.
Charvis’ try came right on halftime and saw the Welsh, for whom Jonathan Thomas was outstanding at flank forward, given a standing ovation as the teams went into the break with the All Blacks leading 28-24.
The second half saw Jones continue with his immaculate goal kicking and penalties in the 43rd and 52nd minutes, either side of Williams’ try, saw Wales take the lead.
But it was shortlived.
Rokocoko hardly received a pass in the second half but Howlett reminded everyone how good he is with tries in the 50th and 69th minutes — showing the pace that made him a New Zealand schoolboy sprint champion — and Spencer finished off a well-worked move from the base of a scrum as the All Blacks slowly grabbed control of the game.
MacDonald added a penalty in the 72nd minute before Aaron Mauger sealed the game with New Zealand’s eighth try of the night.
The victory means the All Blacks win Group D and will face the rapidly improving Springboks in Melbourne on Nov. 8 in the clash of the quarterfinals, with the winner facing either Australia or Scotland for the right to play in the final on Nov. 22 .
“I thought Wales played fantastic,” said All Black captain Reuben Thorne. “We wanted a real contest and they certainly gave it to us. It was a real battle and that’s what we wanted going into the quarterfinals. Now we can look forward to South Africa.”
Wales, whose previous best score against the All Blacks was 17, will take great heart from its performance, and next takes on England in Brisbane on Nov. 9, with a semifinal against either Ireland or France the reward for the victorious team.
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