THE magic of Benji Marshall saw New Zealand canter to their first win of the Gillette Four Nations clash against Wales at Wembley this afternoon, writes Dave Craven.
By the time the dynamic Kiwi captain had helped set up four of their five first half tries to establish a 26-0 interval lead, the game was as good as over.
However, elusive stand-off Marshall was almost upstaged by a wonderful performance from Wales prop Craig Kopczak who epitomised the spirit coursing through the massive underdogs on their first return to the famous stadium since 1933.
The rangy Bradford Bulls front-row, who had impressed in the 42-4 loss against England a week earlier, delivered a rousing display including a barnstorming break which splintered the Kiwi defence and a thunderous hit on Sam McKendry which saw the Penrith Panthers prop staggering to his feet.
With former Crusaders wing Elliot Kear, who joins Kopczak at Odsal next season, also making a series of incisive runs and Lee Briers offering his usual trickery, coach Iestyn Harris can take plenty of positives once more, not least that the Kiwis were held out again until the 62nd minute.
Containing the stylish Marshall in the early stages had been a major issue though as his kicking and handling caused numerous problems.
The Wests Tigers star’s simple dabbed kick saw Jason Nightingale score in the fourth minute before his marvellous inside pass allowed full-back Kevin Locke to weave through.
Sika Manu twisted out of Briers’ tackle to add a third on 21 minutes, and the big second-row earned his second when Wales failed to deal with another hanging Marshall kick on the half-hour.
Marshall improved both Manu’s tries and – though Fuifui Moimoi departed with an injury which could see him miss next week’s game with England - Gerard Beale cruised over just before the break when Marshall effortlessly jinxed down the blindside.
He converted again but the Kiwis did not have it all their own way. Briers typically came up with some bright moments to test their defence, Ian Webster just failing to touch down the captain’s clever kick, and the Welsh pack, led by Kopczak, stood up to their counterparts for large periods.
To Wales’ credit, they came out at the start of the second period and held their own, Kopzcak inspiring them with those notable moments.
It was not until the 62nd minute - when the Bradford front-row was taking a well-earned breather - that the Kiwis added to their score, Wigan hooker Thomas Leuluai firing a cut-out pass which exposed Kear and allowed Beale to walk over for his second.
Nathan Fien completed the scoring late on when he supported Leuluai’s break - Wales’ midfield defence had otherwise been tight - and Marshall tagged on the goal.
Wales: Jones; Kear, Webster, Roets, Williams; Briers, White; James, Budworth, Dudson, Frizzell, Beasley, Flower. Substitutes: Watson, Bracek, Divorty, Kopczak.
England: Locke; Beale, Brown, Glenn, Nightingale; Marshall, Foran; McKendry, Leuluai, Matulino, Manu, Blair, Smith. Substitutes: Fien, Waerea-Hargreaves, Moimoi, Taylor.
Referee: Matt Cecchin (Australia)