Wales End All Blacks' Reign

Wales' George North is jubilant after scoring their first try against England at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff yesterday. It was North's 38th try in Test rugby.
Wales' George North is jubilant after scoring their first try against England at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff yesterday. It was North's 38th try in Test rugby. PHOTO: REUTERS

Gatland's side are just fourth country to top rankings; NZ were at summit since 2009

CARDIFF • Wales topped the world rugby rankings for the first time after beating England 13-6 yesterday in Cardiff, ending almost a decade at the summit for World Cup holders New Zealand.

The Welsh made up for missing out on top spot last week in losing to England by eking out a gritty win over Eddie Jones' side.

"We probably got a bit caught up in all that last weekend," said man of the match Dan Biggar. "We want to keep going about our business. We are looking to get better but it is nice to be where we are."

England captain George Ford said it was a disappointing performance but put the matches into context. "It was a proper Test match and pretty physical," he said. "However, I do not think people will remember these games when the World Cup begins."

Indeed, Wales coach Warren Gatland may have more concerns about the fitness of full back Liam Williams and flanker James Davies.

Williams looked despondent on the sidelines after pulling up with a tight hamstring in the warm-up and was replaced by Leigh Halfpenny.

The injury-plagued Davies - who, with brother Jonathan Davies, became the first pair of siblings to play for Wales since the Robinsons in 2006 - had to make way for Josh Navidi in the 24th minute.

The game shifted considerably to Wales' advantage just after the half-hour mark with the hosts leading 3-0 through a Biggar penalty. They extended it to a 10-0 half-time lead, thanks to George North's 38th try in Test rugby.

England had not gone pointless in the first half of a match since the 2011 World Cup clash with France.

Ford finally got England's first points in the 51st minute, converting a penalty for 10-3 and added another shortly before the hour mark.

Wales sealed their place at the top of the world rankings when late call-up Halfpenny knocked over a penalty with just under five minutes remaining.

The All Blacks may have lost the top-dog status - they have held it since November 2009 - but they handed out a warning with the World Cup approaching by thrashing Australia 36-0 earlier yesterday in Auckland.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen refused to get carried away by the result, saying he was proud of his side for retaining the Bledisloe Cup but that discipline remained an issue.

It was a ruthless performance by New Zealand at Eden Park, just five weeks before they start their World Cup defence, as they unleashed some pent-up rage after their record 47-26 loss to the Wallabies in Perth the previous week.

Rival rugby nations would have taken careful note just how sharp the All Blacks were, but Hansen was not prepared to write off the Wallabies despite the five-tries-to-nil shellacking.

"Both teams will go to the World Cup with a big chance of winning it," he said. "There's been a lot of things said in the media and a lot of things spoken about within the team and that creates the pressure that you have to step up to the plate.

"This week they've worked hard and everyone's done (his) job, from the analysts through to the players, and you've got to be proud of them."

Coach Michael Cheika insisted the loss had not derailed Australia's World Cup preparations.

"We had a lot of momentum in the first half and didn't take any points. We weren't as efficient as we needed to be...

"That inconsistency didn't allow us to get any dominance," he said. "I'm not worried. You get punched in the face sometimes. It's about how you get back up."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 18, 2019, with the headline 'Wales End All Blacks' Reign'. Print Edition | Subscribe