Gatland rings the changes for All Blacks clash
November 25, 2010
Ryan Jones has retained his place in the Wales side despite a horror show against Fiji last time out © Getty Images
Ryan Jones has kept his Wales place despite losing the captaincy for Saturday's Millennium Stadium clash against New Zealand.
The 29-year-old Ospreys forward skippered Wales in their shambolic 16-16 draw with Fiji last week, conceding an injury time penalty that cost his team victory and then being told by head coach Warren Gatland that Matthew Rees would reclaim leadership duties against the All Blacks.
Jones described it as "the worst 20 minutes" of his rugby career, but Gatland has handed him a reprieve although he moves from blindside flanker to No.8 instead of Jonathan Thomas with Dan Lydiate wearing the number six shirt and fit-again Sam Warburton preferred to his Cardiff Blues colleague Martyn Williams at openside. Jones, Lydiate, winger George North, fullback Lee Byrne and prop Adam Jones are the only survivors from the Fiji clash.
Both Warburton and prop Gethin Jenkins have recovered from calf muscle injuries that ruled them out of the South Africa and Fiji games earlier this month, while there is a surprise recall for powerful Blues wing Tom James. James, who was not included in Gatland's original autumn Test squad, is parachuted straight into the team after being preferred to Aled Brew, Chris Czekaj, Will Harries and Tom Prydie to replace dislocated shoulder victim Shane Williams.
James, 23, has not played for Wales since last season's Six Nations defeat against England at Twickenham. He reportedly quit the camp after being overlooked for the clash with Italy in favour of 18-year-old winger Tom Prydie.
There are nine changes and two back-row positional switches from the Fiji match, with returning players including centre Tom Shanklin, half-backs Stephen Jones and Mike Phillips, locks Bradley Davies and Alun-Wyn Jones, plus hooker Rees, who captained Wales in recent weeks against Australia and South Africa. Both Thomas and Martyn Williams are on the bench, where Gatland has opted for five forwards and just two backs in scrum-half Richie Rees and centre Andrew Bishop.
Wales face a Herculean task trying to stop yet another successful Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland by the All Blacks, whose last defeat against their Cardiff hosts came 57 years ago and since when they have reeled off 23 successive wins in the fixture.
Wales, meanwhile, are facing a barren autumn series. They last won a Test match eight months ago, losing five and drawing one of their last six fixtures.
"Sam Warburton gets his chance to start, and Ryan Jones, having not played a lot of rugby this season, has a chance to play at No.8," said Gatland. "But we are also conscious that we have a strong bench to call on to come on and make an impact in that area.
"Gethin Jenkins is back in the front-row, Matthew Rees also returns, and with Adam Jones in the best shape I've seen him, we know we are strong there. Tom James was injured when we named the squad at the start of the series, but he did well for the Blues last weekend in their game against Ulster.
"He has genuine pace, and that along with size and physicality and some experience at this level is what we are going to need against New Zealand. We were all disappointed last week, when we made a number of changes which we thought we could cope with, and although we probably found out we could not, we hope to be back firing on all cylinders this week."
Wales team to play New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday:
L Byrne (Ospreys); G North (Scarlets), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Hook (Ospreys), T James (Cardiff Blues); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets, capt), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), R Jones (Ospreys).
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), P James (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), A Powell (Wasps), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), R Rees (Cardiff Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys).
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