Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks thrash Wales to sweep series

The All Blacks engine would now appear to be purring, not full noise but making the sort of noises that bode well.

There's certainly no issue with their overall skill level. Pass, catch and run - they nailed that bit pretty well. When they opened the game up tonight, which was frequently, they had that mix of menace and adventure.

Some of the space they found was down to Wales falling apart. They were a rabble by the end, dead on their feet and counting the seconds down.

But much of their disintegration was caused by the speed and intensity of the All Blacks' defence and their ability to swarm. It was also because the All Blacks dominated at scrum and lineout time and in the collisions and, when they attacked, there were ball runners and ball handlers across the field.

The speed of movement and thinking was a level up from where it had been and, while they scored more than 40 points, there was a nagging sense they could have scored more.

Still, the All Blacks will feel they took the step forward they wanted to. They didn't hang back and wait to get into the game. They chased it hard from the off, desperate to get their hands on the ball and slip into their rhythm early.

Listen: Match highlights from the third test

There was more poise and awareness than there had been in the first half of either of the first two tests. There was also some thrilling counter attacking that may become the hallmark of this team in time.

Throughout Super Rugby, everyone has marvelled at the skill level of the New Zealand teams and, finally, that was starting to shine through in the test arena. Beauden Barrett, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith were dynamic and ruthless. All three of them had moments when they put the foot down and tore through the thin red line.

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Good last week, Dagg was better again and he ran and probed like he did when he was at his imperious best four years ago. As his confidence increased, so too did his influence and the argument to shift Smith back to his preferred role won't end but, for now, it doesn't feel that the case to do it is convincing.


Beauden Barrett dives over to score against Wales. Photo / Brett Phibbs

And Smith, compounded the case to keep him on the wing by being such a danger when he had possession. He did the right things and his range of skills was incomprehensible at times. Few wings, maybe no other, would have scored the opening try from the position in which he took the ball.

He had no space, a defender flying at him and, yet, he somehow rode the contact in mid-air, kept himself in play and managed to touch down.

What made the counter attack so efficient was the awareness of where the support runners and the ability to get the ball to them.

Halfback Aaron Smith was critical in that regard, always on hand to link and then fire a pass - one huge one to Brodie Retallick led to George Moala being set free and, while he should have scored, that didn't prevent him from being considered a bit of a revelation at centre. Subtlety and finesse weren't in his bag of tricks and he's got a bit to learn about when to release the pass after he's made a break - but he was a handy weapon.

He used his power and pace to take on and beat defenders - good defenders and open up huge holes. Defensively, too, he was in the right place, made good decisions and put men down.

He'll have to wait to see if he makes the cut for the Rugby Championship, but he can feel comfortable that he did all he could to state his claim.

New Zealand 46 (B. Barrett 2, B. Smith, G. Moala, D. Coles, I. Dagg tries; B. Barrett 5 cons, 2 pens) Wales 6 (D.Biggar 2 pens). Halftime: 18-6.

- NZ Herald

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