Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: All Blacks' extraordinary depth the difference

Ardie Savea scores his first test try for the All Blacks. Photo / Getty
Ardie Savea scores his first test try for the All Blacks. Photo / Getty

At halftime during tonight's topsy-turvy test in Wellington, the score was even, Aaron Cruden was off to hospital having scans on a neck injury and Wales were taking full advantage of a curiously-rusty All Blacks performance.

Probably only Israel Dagg's return would have been a source of comfort for coach Steve Hansen. Well, that and the fact he knows he has an extraordinary amount of depth on his reserves bench.

Because by fulltime, Beauden Barrett, Seta Tamanivalu and Ardie Savea had played starring roles, Dane Coles and Waisake Naholo had become increasingly involved and Wales were over-run, done, cooked - their two late tries nothing more than consolation efforts provided by the All Blacks' over-ambition. Next Saturday's test in Dunedin looks like a formidable task for Warren Gatland's men.

Firstly, Dagg. His performance in his 50th test and first for nearly a year was one of joyous inhibition and his first-half try said plenty about the 28-year-old's confidence and attacking instincts.

Read more:
All Blacks seal series win over Wales
Aaron Cruden cleared after neck 'crack'
All Blacks v Wales: As it happened

It was one of the few early highlights for the home side in front of an expectant Wellington crowd of 35,000 and contrasted, of course, with the injury to first-five Cruden, who was carried from the field while wearing a neck brace. The game clock was stuck in the 33rd minute for so long while Cruden was being tended to that the All Blacks were forced to go through a warm-up drill to stave off the chill wind.

The initial reports suggest Cruden may be in doubt for next weekend's test in the deep south, and Chiefs coach Dave Rennie will be hoping for good news for the week after - a potentially season-defining match against the Crusaders in Suva.


Ben Smith dives over the tryline. Photo / Getty

It would be more wretched luck if Cruden is ruled out for any length of time for a player who has had more than his fair share. He missed last year's World Cup due to his long recovery from a knee injury and was impressing as Dan Carter's successor.

Dagg was good, and he needed to be. He spoke during the week about learning to back his instincts again after a disappointing 2015, and here he was, with space provided by Aaron Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, dummying Wales fullback Rhys Patchell to go over.

Tamanivalu, on to the field as early as the first minute as a blood bin replacement for Fekitoa, and who returned after halftime for the All Blacks No 13, impressed with his composure and strength in a sometimes frantic test.

Barrett, on as Cruden's replacement, proved once again that there is very little between him and the little Chiefs player. He also showed once again he is one of the best players in the world to take advantage of a tired and fractured defence. His break put right wing Ben Smith over and he was at it again for a try himself soon after.

Wales perhaps surprised by how competitive they were in the first half following their disappointment in the first test at Eden Park and the humiliation in Hamilton. In the end, though, the All Blacks scented blood, and who better to take advantage than the extraordinary Ardie Savea?

With the back-up loose forward at Hansen's disposal, Wales' 63-year winless drought against the All Blacks looks in no danger of coming to an end any time soon.

- NZ Herald

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