Rieko Ioane wasn't supposed to play this final test of the year; ruled out by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen with a shoulder injury. Bless his magical healing powers, because the world's best wing, and probably best player this year, created two decisive tries and scored two others to spark the All Blacks in Cardiff.

After a miraculous recovery, Ioane still appeared to be carrying his shoulder at training on Thursday. Yet there were no signs of the issue as he set up Waisake Naholo with a burst in the first half, and Anton Lienert-Brown in the second. Ioane's final quarter intercept went even further to effectively seal victory, and his second gave a hint of why he will, one day, make a world-class centre.

Ioane only needs an inch of space to get his pace and fend working. He can jink to the outside, and beat a man from a standing start. It's these reasons which make him favourite to win World Rugby breakthrough and player of the year next week.

Hard to believe he is only 20.


Without him here, the All Blacks attack would have really struggled.

When Ioane put the foot down to gas over for his second try, locals headed for the exits.

They've seen this too many times over the past 64 years. This is now 30 successive defeats to the All Blacks.

Wales made good on their promise to chase the width and have a crack with rookie second five-eighth Owen Williams enjoying some nice touches. They had all the heart in the world, all the ball really, but for mental strength and execution the All Blacks have it all over them.

Naholo was just as effective and busy as Ioane on the other edge, scoring two twice and regularly looking for work. Other than that, it was more a case of hanging on.

Most punters tune in for tries and offloads but the gritty stuff is just as, if not more, important.

While their wings produced moments of brilliance, the All Blacks were under the pump throughout.

They have previously come to Cardiff and run amok. This time, it was defence they needed most.

Ioane celebrates a try with teammate TJ Perenara. Photo / Getty Images.
Ioane celebrates a try with teammate TJ Perenara. Photo / Getty Images.

Exposed by one brilliant set phase strike off a lineout which Scott Williams finished right on half time, otherwise the All Blacks' defence was superb. And it needed to be. They conceded one other try – replacement halfback Gareth Davies sneaking over – with Sam Whitelock in the bin. But living without the ball is never easy.

The All Blacks played most of this match without possession, making 62 more tackles than Wales, and found a way largely thanks to Ioane.

Wales relentlessly banged away with same enthusiasm as those who flood in from the Valleys for a night on the town. But time and again they confronted the likes of Sam Cane, this hugely underappreciated openside who sets the defensive tone every week.

Cane, in combination with stand-in skipper Whitelock, dined Welsh No 8 Taulupe Faletau in the first half in the most obvious illustration of his work-rate. So often elsewhere he made dominant, crunching hits and covering tackles right to the final minute. It was no surprise to see Cane hobbling and clearly exhausted by the end. This was some shift from the Reporoa terrier, who made 21 tackles on his own.

The All Blacks weren't helped by referee Wayne Barnes missing forward passes; being influenced by the passionate crowd to effectively give Wales three points when their wing ran into the back of two tight forwards.

As far as leaving a lasting impression, it is difficult to be overly critical of this All Blacks side. They are, genuinely, missing seven starters, including captain Kieran Read, Ben Smith and Brodie Retallick.

Many areas of their game require work but, tonight, they took their limited chances and scrambled like their lives depended on it.

This was not Wales' best team. They, too, were without Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Sam Warburton.

But even at full strength, even when the All Black are not at their best, history tells us someone like Ioane stands up.