It was a pleasant sunny afternoon arriving in Port Talbot, Wales after our long drive from our base in Birmingham. After a thorough examination of the pitch we found it to be very dry, hard and bumpy. It looked as if both teams would struggle to play pretty football foreshadowing a tough, physical affair.
The game started frantically with both teams playing long ball, clearing their lines and fighting for scraps in the final third. New Zealand started brightly with Judd Baker and Ben Thomas winning possession up front and creating a few half-chances for themselves and teammates. However, Wales also had positive movements going forwards but struggled to find the final ball to unlock the solid New Zealand defence, who kept an excellent defensive line in the early stages catching the Welsh forwards offside several times.
The game begun to settle down after the frantic start and both sides beginning to play more passes to feet with Daniel Bowkett starting to get on the ball and directing play for New Zealand. After beating two players and winding to the bye line Ben Thomas played a great cut-back ball to the penalty spot for Sam Brotherton to finish and put New Zealand 1-0 up. The New Zealand side were working incredible hard and dominating the second phase ball with tough tackling centre backs Stewart Mackay and Shuiab Khan preventing the Welsh from seriously testing goalkeeper Cameron Hogg. New Zealand’s pressure eventually paid off again forcing set-pieces and corners in the final third. From a Sam Brotherton corner the ball found Ben Thomas charging in at the back post to bundle the ball over the line. 2-0. New Zealand went into the changing room at half time in good spirits with the advantage and determined to finish the job at hand.
The second half saw Wales make several substitutions and come out with more attacking flair, they had more attacking purpose and the New Zealand midfield and defence had to work very hard to maintain their lead. The New Zealand players begun to tire and the forwards were struggling to hold the ball up, leaving the defence under high pressure. Thankfully, the New Zealand back four were up to the challenge, restricting Wales to only half chances. From a resulting Welsh fee-kick, the ball was played into the box with the Welsh player losing his man and firing a good header past Cameron Hogg.
The 2-1 score line set up a fiery, feisty end to the match. The New Zealand team was desperate to hold out for the win however Wales pushed numbers forwards looking for an equaliser. The Kiwis battled breaking down Welsh attacks and trying to keep the ball high in the final third with Daniel Ridgley winning several free-kicks to release the pressure on the New Zealand defence. After a long second half, with many minutes of injury time due to the foul riddled last fifteen minutes, the final whistle blew and the Kiwis discipline, hard work and determination won them the game. This win and the previous win against Northern Ireland meaning they were the first New Zealand Schoolboys team to beat two of the “home nations,” on a tour, a great achievement.
The team now looks forward to Monday when they take on England and look to finish their tour on a successful note.