All Blacks on course for Grand Slam
November 26, 2010
Dan Carter is set to break Jonny Wilkinson's Test points record on Saturday © Getty Images
Wales take on New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday with the All Blacks in search of a third Grand Slam in five years.
The home side have endured a terrible week in the wake of last weekend's acrimonious draw with Fiji and have scant hope of ending a losing streak against their rivals that now dates back some 57 years.
New Zealand weathered an Irish storm to cruise to victory in Dublin last weekend, leaving Wales with a mountain to climb once again. The tourists will have added reason to dig deep following the Pike River mining tragedy and will pay their respects by wearing white armbands this weekend.
The talk always flows when these two sides meet. It's time to put up or shut up for Wales.
Wales - Player to Watch: If you are selected to wear No.7 against the All Blacks then you need to have a big game. Cardiff Blues youngster Sam Warburton has been given the nod to take on Richie McCaw this weekend and his blend of pace and power should lead to another intriguing battle after he got the better of Australia's David Pocock earlier this month.
Wales - Team News: Matthew Rees will lead a side showing a number of changes, although Ryan Jones retains his place in the back-row and shifts to No.8. Dan Lydiate moves to blindside to complete the back-row. Gethin Jenkins returns at loose-head in an all-Lions front-row while there is a surprise call for Cardiff Blues wing Tom James, who joins George North and Lee Byrne in the back-three.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: We may only have to watch one swing of his boot to see history made, as Dan Carter needs three points to overtake Jonny Wilkinson as the highest Test points scorer of them all. Previous encounters with Wales point to there being fireworks however - he's scored five tries against them in a total of 150 points.
New Zealand - Team News: Hooker Keven Mealamu returns from suspension while Sonny Bill Williams has ousted Ma'a Nonu from the No.12 jersey. Also in the backs, Jimmy Cowan is recalled at scrum-half and Isaia Toeava beats Cory Jane to a wing berth. Lock Brad Thorn will win his 50th cap, as will replacement hooker Andrew Hore if called upon.
Key Battle: If the All Blacks are allowed quick ball then Wales could quickly be chasing a cricket score. The return of Jenkins and the physicality of Lydiate and Warburton will be a huge boost but questions remain about whether they can mix it for 80 minutes at the breakdown.
Trivia: Wales fly-half Stephen Jones knows the pain of defeat against the All Blacks more than most - he's played them 10 times, more than any other Welshman, with nothing to show for it.
Stats: Carter's current Test mark of 1176 points has come from 29 tries, 205 penalties, 205 conversions and two drop-goals.
"It wasn't a knee-jerk reaction after the Fiji match, as people are trying to portray it was. I don't think Ryan played badly. One of the things he has done in the past is that he's responded when he has been under pressure - he has responded well to criticism." - Wales boss Waren Gatland denies that Ryan Jones has been made a scapegoat in the wake of their loss to Fiji.
"He is the greatest openside flanker in the game and he probably knows the rules better than the referees." - New Zealand assistant coach Steve Hansen defends Richie McCaw.
Prediction: For Wales to beat the All Blacks, everything needs to go right. With a terrible week behind them and the natives restless, that's not too likely to happen come kick-off. New Zealand will canter to a Grand Slam.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Ireland's Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton