Legend has it that when New Zealand returned from their European and north American tour in 1963-64 after piling up 34 wins and a draw from 36 games, the first question the players were asked at the airport was a simple one: “What happened in Newport?”
All those successes on a wonderful trek through the northern hemisphere, yet the focus at home was still on the one that got away, namely the match against the Black and Ambers at Rodney Parade when Dick Uzzell dropped a goal to secure the hosts a 3-0 victory.
It said much about the Kiwi mentality.
When this writer and a colleague from Gwent were on a Wellington-bound train during the 2011 World Cup, a guard engaged us in a conversation about the aforementioned Uzzell, All Blacks slayer at the age of 21.
Again, it said a lot about their knowledge of rugby and passion for the sport.
Wales haven’t beaten them since 1953, a year of flickering black-and-white pictures on TV sets, Stanley Matthews, new cars without seatbelts, the Queen’s coronation and Everest being conquered for the first time.
Read more : How Wales’ 1953 win over the All Blacks shaped players’ lives
Sweden’s Gunder Hagg held the world mile record back then with a time of 4 mins 01.4 secs. It was considered a wonderful effort. Nowadays, if he were on course for such a time time there’d be cries of “get a move on, yer slug!”
The world has changed, yet there has been a significant constant in the years since and that involves New Zealand bettering Wales at rugby. There have been 31 consecutive Kiwi wins in the fixture, and according to Jeremy Guscott, victory number 32 won’t be long arriving.
The countries meet in Cardiff in just over six weeks’ time, but former England and Lions centre Guscott believes Wales have zero chance of winning.
In a column in The Rugby Pape r, he goes as far as to suggest Wayne Pivac’s side could lose by 30 points.
“The New Zealand match, which is on October 30, is the first of the autumn series for Wales, and it makes me think they have got no chance,” writes Guscott.
“The Al Blacks will arrive hardened by the Rugby Championship, and it could be a 20 to 30-point gap against the Six Nations champions.
“It is amazing that I’m talking about that sort of differential, record crowd or not, but there it is.”
He points out that Wales have a few players who are on the cusp of the end of their international careers.
Players like Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, Jonathan Davies and Dan Biggar are in an international twilight zone, he suggests, before asking: “How likely is it that they will play the best rugby of their careers after they are 30, even though the drop-off has not been as sharp as it can be for some players?’
Pick your greatest Wales XV now
But it’s also New Zealand’s quality that impresses one of England’s greatest centres.
They are back at the top of the world rugby rankings for the first time in two years and have returned to such an elevated position playing an easy-on-the-eye brand of rugby — an antidote to the borderline unwatchable stuff that South Africa and the Lions served up in the summer.
“My frustration with the game is lessened when I watch the All Blacks play because it is such a breath of fresh air,” says Guscott, who writes of the skills of players like Brodie Retallick, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie.
He continues: “It can be a transient time for teams two years before the World Cup, and it has to be said that while Wales can beat New Zealand, it’s odds-on they won’t, even with a full house behind them.
“New Zealand may not be world champions, but they are consistently the best team in the world, and while Wales have a game in them like England did in the semi-final of the 2019 World Cup, there is no sign that will happen.
“It would be a miracle result if Wales won, and that’s why it’s fair to say that the full house in Cardiff will be going there to watch New Zealand because of their brilliance, every bit as much as supporting their own team.”
To get the latest Welsh rugby news delivered straight to your inbox, you can sign up for our Welsh rugby newsletter.