PREVIEW: Wales v New Zealand

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 06:16

NOVEMBER INTERNATIONAL SEASON: Warren Gatland renews the Lions rivalry with the All Blacks when he comes face-to-face with Steve Hansen as Wales host New Zealand on Saturday and bid to buck a 29-match losing streak dating back to 1953.

That 13-8 victory in Cardiff is long forgotten for most Welsh fans, one of just three wins in 33 match-ups.

Gatland, who led the British and Irish Lions to a 1-1 series draw against the All Blacks in June/July, enjoys an unenviable record of just three victories over the Southern Hemisphere trio also including Australia and South Africa in 35 matches.

Since taking charge ahead of the 2008 Six Nations, Gatland has not managed to lead Wales to victory over the trio on foreign soil in five trips south and in 15 matches.

Against the All Blacks, Wales have shipped 344 points and 39 tries while scoring 140 points and crossing the whitewash just 10 times in as many matches.

Gatland came under intense criticism as Lions coach, pilloried and mocked by the Kiwi press and portrayed as Hansen's bitter rival.

But the Kiwi, a former Waikato hooker never capped by the All Blacks, said he was looking forward to having a post-match drink with Hansen, himself a former Wales coach between 2002-04 before taking over the reins in his homeland from Graham Henry.

"People try to make a lot of stuff about myself and Steve, but I'd like to think there're no issues," Gatland said.

"I've got a huge amount of respect for what he's achieved in the game and the success he's had as an All Blacks coach has been absolutely outstanding."

Hansen chimed in: "We drew the series in NZ and we had a drink there. Win or lose, we'll always have a drink, it's what rugby's about."

But the Kiwi played down any significance being played in his team's historical record over Wales.

"History is a little bit like a drought," he said.

"Every day you are one [day] closer to it raining, so every year they will be one closer to winning" against the All Blacks.

"For us, we don't talk about winning and losing, we talk about preparing and having a process that allows us to go out and play well or the best we can."

New Zealand suffered a blow when captain and No.8 Kieran Read was ruled out with a back injury.

Read's place will be taken by Luke Whitelock, with his brother Samuel skippering the side from lock. The pressure will be on the siblings: their grandfather George Nelson Dalzell was a member of the All Blacks side that lost back in 1953.

In other changes, Patrick Tuipulotu is named ahead of Luke Romano in the second row while Liam Squire will start at blindside flank, lock Scott Barrett coming onto the bench.

Lock Alun Wyn Jones returns to lead the Welsh side, the Ospreys player part of an unchanged pack from November's opening 21-29 defeat to Australia.

Injuries to Lions Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies sees Hallam Amos and Scott Williams in the starting XV.

But Gatland warned his side would not be going into the game with perhaps the usual trepidation following the Lions tour.

"Having played against a number of those players on a regular basis, you just feel a bit more comfortable," he said.

That said, New Zealand have scored 468 points in Test matches this year, averaging 36 per game, and notched up 62 tries.

The boundaries of Wales' fear factor may have shifted, but the home side will have to be at their finest to resist the black tide.

Players to watch: 

For Wales: Leigh Halfpenny is always a danger at the back, but it is his accurate boot that could give Wales the advantage if it gets tight. Scrumhalf Rhys Webb is a brilliant scrumhalf and he will be key in unlocking the All Blacks' defence on Saturday. No.8 Taulupe Faletau had a shocker against Australia a few weeks ago and he will have to lift his performance against the best team in the world.

For New Zealand: After and outstanding Super Rugby season, Luke Whitelock gets an opportunity in the No.8 jersey in place of Kieran Read. No.6 Liam Squire is an outstanding talent in the pack and he has the pace and the power to trouble the Welsh. Flyhalf Beauden Barrett is always a threat on attack, while wing Rieko Ioane is in brilliant try-scoring form.

Head to head: The All Blacks just look so much strong up front between the two sides and it could be an area where they bully the Welsh. Flyhalf Dan Biggar will need to be at his very best to try and outplay Beauden Barrett. The All Blacks also look a lot bigger in the backline and it will be interesting to see the likes of Steff Evans taking on Waisake Naholo out wide.

Recent results:
2016: New Zealand won 46-6, Dunedin
2016: New Zealand won 36-22, Wellington
2016: New Zealand won 39-21, Auckland
2014: New Zealand won 34-16, Cardiff
2012: New Zealand won 33-10, Cardiff
2010: New Zealand won 37-25, Cardiff
2010: New Zealand won 29-10, Hamilton
2010: New Zealand won 42-9, Dunedin
2009: New Zealand won 19-12, Cardiff
2008: New Zealand won 29-9, Cardiff

Prediction: Wales are missing a number of players and they just don't have the quality to upset the All Blacks in Cardiff. The All Blacks will win by 20 points at least.

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Hallam Amos, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Steff Evans, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Jake Ball, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Rob Evans.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Leon Brown, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Jamie Roberts.

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.

Date: Saturday, November 25
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17.15 (17.15 GMT; 06.15 NZ Time, Sunday, November 26)
Expected weather: It will be partly cloudy with a chance of rain. There will be a high of 7°C and a low of 3°C. There will also be a strong breeze.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

AFP & @rugby365com