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Shane Williams verdict: Lively Liam Williams is such a joy to watch

 Liam WilliamsWhat a game and what an effort from Sam Warburton and his boys but yet again, New Zealand showed why they are the world champions.

It was a thrilling game in Auckland and for more than an hour, everyone in Wales was keeping their fingers crossed that we could see history being made.

It has been far, far too long since we last beat the All Blacks in 1953, since before most of us were born. But after a fantastic first half, the pressure and effort finally took its toll.

It is not a coincidence that New Zealand find a way to win Test matches even when they are not at their best. And they definitely were not at their best yesterday in their first Test match since the World Cup final in October.

The shame is that everyone suspected the first Test would be Wales’ best chance and we still didn’t manage to take it. New Zealand will undoubtedly be better in Wellington next week and will not make so many handling errors or turnovers then.

Yet again Wales were the heroic losers but I can tell you now that the players are utterly sick and tired of that tag. As will be the fans back home.

But we have to put this match – and that performance – into perspective. The All Blacks simply do not lose at Eden Park yet that was the best display ever by a Welsh team in New Zealand.

They scored the most points and lost by the smallest margin. What a kick in the teeth it was to concede that last try in injury-time, the boys really didn’t deserve that and meant the scoreboard barely reflected the game.

I was among those who criticised Wales after a lacklustre show at Twickenham two weeks ago.

The hope was that it would get them back up to speed of Test rugby and that’s exactly what it did. After a shaky start, Wales showed real ambition and intent. Liam Williams was just a joy to watch. He seemed to beat the first – and often the second and third – tackler every time and played a part in both tries for Wales.

He was so smart in his angles of running that at this rate Leigh Halfpenny will have a battle on his hands to get the No.15 jersey back when he is fit.

And that was the best game I’ve seen from George North in a long while. He looked a real threat every time he touched the ball and skinned Julian Savea time and again. The All Black will not be looking forward to meeting the big man next week if George’s knee injury turns out not to be serious.

Hallam Amos deserved his call but I think he was guilty of standing off New Zealand’s other flying wing Waisake Naholo too much. I don’t blame him, the bloke is a monster! But that’s exactly why you need to grab him early before he gets going because he proved just how quick he is for such a big man.

Dan BiggarYet again the Welsh half-backs were outstanding. It was a bruising game for Dan Biggar above who was the receiver from almost every kick-off and the likes of Jerome Kaino were licking their lips at getting a run-up to smash the fly-half.

But Dan is a tough cookie and he shook off the knocks to keep Wales going forward. He varied the attack well and was unlucky not to hand Jonathan Davies a try with a clever kick with the outside of his boot. A score then could have been crucial.

Rhys Webb was fantastic and can hold his head up high for coming out on level terms with Aaron Smith, probably the world’s best scrum-half right now.

Wales always talk about pitting themselves against the best and plenty of them held their own.

It was fantastic to see Wales  taking on the All Blacks at their own game, with some exhilarating counter-attacking and also playing with such width. The two tries were as good as you could wish to see but in the end, it still was not enough. Again missed tackles hurt Wales, as they did in Twickenham.

And you have to give New Zealand credit. They were ruthless in turning a 5-3 deficit into a 15-5 lead in the space of four minutes of the first half and then pulled away in the final 20 minutes.

They may have lost the likes of Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu but there was still plenty of know-how in this team from the World Cup success.

They remain a team that can turn defence into attack in a split second like no other, just as Ben Smith showed for their second try.

But ultimately the big difference was the replacements bench. Beauden Barrett came on early in the second half and gave New Zealand a different dimension. Then Patrick Tuipulotu and Ardie Savea came on and provided a new injection for the crucial latter stages.

Wales’ replacements didn’t quite have the same impact. Gareth Davies almost created a try out of nothing for the offside Faletau but Wales need to get more from the other substitutes if they are finally to end this long, long wait.

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