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New Zealand routs Wales, extends unbeaten record to 20 tests

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Associated Press
11/24/2012 2:41:26 PM
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CARDIFF -- New Zealand piled on the agony for beleaguered Wales by crushing the Six Nations champion 33-10 thanks to a devastating first-half display at Millennium Stadium on Saturday, extending its unbeaten string to 20 tests.

It was a day to cherish for the All Blacks pack, with forwards Liam Messam, Tony Woodcock and Luke Romano upstaging their potent backline by crossing for their three tries.

Aaron Cruden showed once again the world champions have an able deputy for peerless flyhalf Dan Carter, who pulled out injured on Friday, by kicking flawlessly to plunder 18 points through four penalties and three conversions.

Down 33-0 after 49 minutes, the Welsh delivered a late rally with tries by Scott Williams and Alex Cuthbert restoring some pride. But the heaviest home defeat in coach Warren Gatland's five-year reign made it six straight losses -- its worst run since 2003. Steve Hansen, the current New Zealand coach, was in charge then.

"To win by 23 points in a place like this is a great result," said New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, whose side hasn't lost since August 2011.

New Zealand's 25th win in a row against Wales, stretching back 59 years, was tarnished, however, by an act of violence from Andrew Hore that put Bradley Davies in hospital and is sure to land the hooker in disciplinary trouble.

With just 33 seconds having elapsed, Hore planted a swinging arm from behind on the side of Davies' face as they chased back to compete in a ruck, dropping the second row to the floor. It will be a major surprise if Hore isn't cited and banned from next week's test against England at Twickenham.

"You don't usually associate the All Blacks as a side that resort to cheap shots," said Gatland, who played 17 times for New Zealand. "Brad's gone down in a heap. He doesn't quite know where he is."

Prop Aaron Jarvis, who left the stadium on crutches with a serious knee injury, and key centre Jamie Roberts (right hip) were also forced off in the opening 18 minutes, contributing to Wales' below-par early showing when its players were left chasing shadows at times.

The second half was different, though. In the final 25 minutes, the Welsh produced some of their best rugby of a month that has seen them lose to Argentina and Samoa.

"It was shut-up-shop time at the end, which is probably a bit disappointing," McCaw said.

Cruden, who hasn't lost in 19 appearances for the All Blacks, was drafted in only on Friday after Carter pulled out with a right leg injury but produced a kicking display that the superstar flyhalf would have been proud of. Cruden also pulled the strings impressively at pivot, asking the Welsh defence questions and offloading superbly.

"Outstanding," was Hansen's assessment of Cruden. "I thought he drove us around the park in the first 60 minutes really well. A couple of years ago, he didn't have a kicking game. He should put his head on the pillow tonight a happy bloke."

Although ultimately outclassed, Wales also had itself to blame, strangely refusing twice to kick for goal in the opening 10 minutes in favour of attacking lineouts. On both occasions, flyhalf Rhys Priestland missed touch with his kicks, adding insult to injury.

"Crazy," Hansen said. "You will have to ask the Messiah why he didn't take the points."

Cruden slotted over three penalties in the opening 19 minutes before the All Blacks grabbed their first try, Messam's third in internationals.

The elusive Israel Dagg and Julian Savea profited from missed tackles to make breaks down the left and when the ball was recycled across to the other side, Conrad Smith sent Messam over.

The pack could celebrate a second try just before halftime with a score right off the training ground, Sam Whitelock patting down a lineout for Woodcock to bulldoze through a glaring gap for a try reminiscent of the prop's in last year's World Cup final.

Without really firing, New Zealand found itself 23-0 up at halftime and Cruden slotted his fourth penalty three minutes after the break.

The flyhalf's error-free kicking performance continued when he converted a debut test try by Romano, who took a pass from Savea and swatted aside Cuthbert in the left corner in the 49th.

Wales' late revival prevented it from being kept scoreless in Cardiff for the first time since a 3-0 loss to Ireland in 1967.

"We showed some real character," Gatland said. "We could easily have thrown in the towel."

Nearly the whole home team joined in a driving maul from a lineout to push Williams over the line, and Cuthbert finished off an overlap three minutes from time.

The All Blacks' slack end was compounded by winger Cory Jane being sin-binned in the 59th for a deliberate knock on.

"It was a reasonable performance," McCaw said," but perhaps we did not treasure the ball as much as we could have."

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New Zealand 33 (Liam Messam, Tony Woodcock, Luke Romano tries; Aaron Cruden 3 conversions, 4 penalties), Wales 10 (Scott Williams, Alex Cuthbert tries). HT: 23-0.

Luke Romano (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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