Classic All Blacks triumph over Spain in front of bumper crowd in Madrid
There may have been a few seats empty at the home of European football titans Atletico Madrid but between the cheers of a passionate Spanish crowd and the roar of thunderclaps that heralded a monstrous downpour right on kick-off, you could not have asked for a better atmosphere for a fixture that it is hoped will further grow the sport in Spain.
Los Leones struck first after a prolonged period of build-up but it didn’t take long for the Classic All Blacks to respond, with fullback Andre Taylor slipping through a gap near the Spanish line to even up the scores 5-all.
At the 20-minute mark, the game came to life when prop Census Johnstone put through an audacious kick ahead after scooping up a loose ball and the Classic All Blacks were shortly rewarded with a penalty five metres out from the goal-line.
Luke McAlister went close to barreling over from the ensuing scrum but came up just short and when the ball was spilt by Johnstone, Spain kicked down the line and had the ball not serendipitously bounced into touch, Los Leones right wing Jordi Jorba likely would have smoked the cover to score Spain’s second.
Instead, the All Blacks attacked from a quick lineout and again found themselves within touching distance of the try-line. Flanker Tim Boys almost scored from a grubber into the in-goal but with the pitch now waterlogged, the ball slid dead – and so did Boys, right into the hoarding.
A nice offload from Daniel Ramsay at the 33-minute mark sent Donald on a long run down the field but his support couldn’t quite match his pace and the ball was eventually knocked on from the ensuing play.
When the All Blacks earned themselves a scrum on the 22, Spain couldn’t resist the unrelenting attack and halfback Isaac Boss eventually dived over for a well-taken try after an excellent crash ball by Chris Masoe in the lead-up.
Spain came close to grabbing another try of their own just moments later when fullback Charly Malie and left wing John-Wessell Bell combined down the flank but an excellent cover tackle by Andre Taylor shut down the attack and the teams went into the sheds with the Classic All Blacks holding a 19-5 lead – and the rain starting to fade.
Compounding errors from the Spanish early in the second half eventually saw the Classic All Blacks score from a five-metre scrum, with Alby Mathewson eventually driving over with the support of four of his teammates.
Spain came close to striking back almost from the very next play but couldn’t quite outflank their opposition and eventually lost the ball forward just metres from the Classic All Blacks’ line. From the ensuing scrum, a magic offload from Rico Gear – who had shifted intot6g the centre role – eventually set Rudi Wulf on a good run down the right. The ball was then swung left where Jarred Hoeata threw a fine dummy and cantered away.
Spain secured the ball but it was back in the hands of the Classic All Blacks again quickly and it was Gear who eventually scored, showing great pace and pose to pick up the ball and dive over the line from a well-weighted kick through from Mike Delany.
It appeared that Los Leones had fallen into the trap of playing like they were in an exhibition match but with the scoreline 33-5 in favour of the Classic All Blacks, Spain started to operate with a bit more patience and a nice looping backline move from close range saw centre Alvar Gimeno grab the home team’s second try of the match.
With 15 minutes left to play, Spain constructed another great try up the middle of the park with some solid interplay eventually resulting in number 8 Afa Tauli getting the score.
It was then that Los Leones finally started to roar – and the crowd gave their biggest cheers of the night when Bell capped off an incredible long-range effort that started inside Spain’s 22. With the conversion, the Classic All Blacks held just a seven-point lead with 11 minutes left to play.
It may have been a small buffer, but it’s all the Classic All Blacks needed and despite various attacking launches, neither side could score any further points.
It may be a cliche but rugby was the winner on the night. With over 40,000 fans flocking to Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, a new Spanish record was set for an international match and although the accuracy wasn’t always there, the rugby at times made for sublime viewing.
Los Leones may no longer be destined for the World Cup next year, but the game of rugby will undoubtedly continue to grow in the Iberian nation if similar exhibitions of the game become the norm.
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