Semi-final: New Zealand 31-6 Wales
By Duncan Wood
Backed by a typically partisan crowd at a rain lashed Rodney Parade, host nation Wales gave it their all in the first IRB Junior World Championship semi-final, but New Zealand had simply too much in the locker and produced a professional second half display to clinch a 31-6 win and march into Sunday’s final.
New Zealand had averaged just over 57 points in their Pool A games leading into this match at Rodney Parade in Newport, but were made to scrap for every single point by a Wales side who, led by the magnificent Jonathan Davies in the centre, put their bodies on the line in defence.
However, the home side could not maintain that level of intensity for 80 minutes and New Zealand took enough of a grip in the second half to close out the game and set up a final against either England or South Africa.
Wales tore into New Zealand from the off and the men in black looked visibly rocked, so when Leigh Halfpenny, the Welsh hero with his last gasp match-winning try against France to earn this semi-final, slotted an sixth minute penalty it was no more than his side deserved.
Understandably given the wet conditions, New Zealand responded by keeping it tight although it was a finely measured cross kick from full back Trent Renata that unlocked the Welsh defence for hooker Quentin MacDonald to gather and score two minutes later.
A catch and drive on the half hour resulted in the second try for New Zealand through prop Paea Fa’anunu, but a second penalty for wing Halfpenny kept Wales in touch at half time, trailing only 10-6.
Renata inspired New Zealand in the second half with conditions worsening as he found good distance with his line kicking and slotted two valuable penalties to extend the lead to 16-6.
But the critical blow came on the hour as centre Ryan Crotty scooped up a loose Welsh kick ahead and linked with wing Sean Maitland before putting number 8 Nasi Manu into the corner.
Wales, watched by national coach Warren Gatland, refused to cave in against an increasingly powerful black tide, but a third penalty from Renata moved New Zealand further clear and the full back then converted Maitland’s late try to complete the scoring.
In fairness, the final scoreline looked lopsided but New Zealand were clearly the stronger outfit with captain Chris Smith leading the pack with passion and Trent Renata kicking superbly in the wet.
New Zealand Co-Coach Dave Rennie: “It was a good result in the end in some very trying conditions. Our ball security wasn’t flash in the first half and, because of that, we couldn’t apply pressure. But we worked hard playing into the wind in the first half and that paid off in the second.”
New Zealand Captain Chris Smith: “I don’t think the scoreboard really reflected how tough a game that was. They were really up for it in front of a massive crowd and it was a really good atmosphere. They played with passion and played some good rugby.”
Wales Head Coach Patrick Horgan: “I’m pretty disappointed. We were hoping to push them a bit closer but they’re a fantastic outfit and I thought they played the conditions superbly in the second half. We’ve a lot of battered bodies but need to pick ourselves up for the third place play off.”
Wales Captain Sam Warburton: “We put pressure on them in the first half when we relied on our defence to produce that pressure. We went in at half time only 10-6 down and that was a huge improvement on last year. But we let it slip a bit in the second half but New Zealand, I think, are hands down the nest team in the tournament.”