Cardiff, Wales: New Zealand overwhelmed Six Nations champion Wales 33-10 while South Africa and Australia squeezed to narrow victories to maintain the southern hemisphere’s dominance of the autumn internationals in the third weekend of matches.
The Springboks weathered a late England storm in dreadful conditions to emerge 16-15 winners at Twickenham and finish their European tour with a third straight victory.
Australia also held off a second-half fightback, this time from Italy, to win 22-19 in Florence and preserve their perfect record against the Azzurri.
It was left to the All Blacks to provide the final flourish, protecting their 59-year winning run over Wales thanks to a flawless kicking performance by flyhalf Aaron Cruden and a devastating opening 50 minutes, when forwards Liam Messam, Tony Woodcock and Luke Romano all crossed for tries.
“For our second-last game of the season, it was a 10/10,” said New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, whose top-ranked side is unbeaten since August 2011.
Ireland returned to form by running in seven tries in a 46-24 thrashing of a tired Argentina, ending a streak of five straight losses and securing a place among the second seeds for the pool draw for the 2015 World Cup on December 3.
France subdued Samoa 22-14 for a third November win in a row, but Scotland crashed to a 21-15 loss to Tonga in Aberdeen and will drop to No. 12 in the world rankings. Tonga will be at No. 11.
In Cardiff, the champions of the northern and southern hemispheres collided, but it was really only a contest after the break, by which time New Zealand had the match wrapped up.
The world champions mixed clinical finishing with some skullduggery, with hooker Andrew Hore escaping any on-field sanction for knocking Wales lock Bradley Hore to the ground with a swinging arm to the face from behind after 33 seconds. He is sure to be cited, however.
“You don’t usually associate the All Blacks as a side that resort to cheap shots,” said Wales coach Warren Gatland. A groggy Davies was led off the pitch, one of three Wales players injured in the opening 18 minutes.
More pleasing on the eye were the tries scored by the tourists, with Messam finishing off a flowing, length-of-the-field attack in the corner before Woodcock bulldozed over from a well-worked lineout move.
Those tries came in the final 14 minutes of the first half and Romano’s first international try, in the 49th, ended Wales’ slim hopes of a comeback. Cruden didn’t miss with four penalties and three conversions, for 18 points.
“Definitely a game of two halves,” said Gatland, who saw Scott Williams and Alex Cuthbert cross for tries for the hosts in a late rally.
Wales has lost six in a row, its worst run for nine years - when Hansen was in charge. New Zealand is undefeated in 20 tests, three short of equaling its world record.
South Africa produced another battling display to consign England to a second straight defeat and stay unbeaten this month, after previous wins against Ireland and Scotland.
The Springboks scored the only try, a fortunate score through flanker Willem Alberts, while flyhalf Patrick Lambie kicked perfectly for 11 points.
Behind 16-6, England threatened a comeback with replacement Owen Farrell successful with his only three shots at goal, but ran out of time. Curiously, England captain Chris Robshaw ordered Farrell to kick for goal when 16-12 behind with two minutes to go, instead of going for an attacking lineout that could have led to a match-winning try.
“The players have to make decisions on the field, as coaches we can’t influence that,” Lancaster said.
South Africa ended an up-and-down year, in which they finished third in the Rugby Championship under new coach Heyneke Meyer, on a high note.
“Six months ago we would have probably lost this by 20 points so I will take the one point,” Meyer said.
England plays New Zealand next week and is out of the running for a top seeding for the 2015 World Cup draw, meaning the tournament host could be drawn in the same group as the All Blacks, Springboks or Wallabies.
Australia took a commanding 19-point lead in Florence through Nick Cummins’ try and kicks by Berrick Barnes and Kurtley Beale, but would have come away with only a draw had Luciano Orquera not missed a last-minute penalty.
The Wallabies visit Wales next weekend and ares the only one of the Tri-Nations powers to have lost this month, at France in the opening round of matches.
Ireland ended its longest losing run in 14 years with a surprisingly heavy win over Argentina, with test debutant Craig Gilroy scoring the first of the team’s seven tries.
Even though Argentina scored its two tries in the last four minutes, Ireland finished with its highest score and biggest win over the Pumas.
“You never in your wildest dreams think you’ll score that number of tries against Argentina,” Ireland coach Declan Kidney said. “If things click then this team is well capable of doing that.”
Also, Fiji finally won on their four-match European tour by outlasting Georgia 24-19 in Tbilisi, and the United States over-ran Romania 34-3 in Bucharest.