All Blacks keen to see Carisbrook off in style
June 17, 2010
Israel Dagg wins his second cap at fullback for New Zealand © Getty Images
The All Blacks will bring the curtain down at Carisbrook, Dunedin's evocatively nicknamed 'House of Pain', on Saturday as they aim to extend their long winning run over Wales.
Warren Gatland's tourists are in search of a first win over their hosts since 1953, but are unlikely to get a great deal of change out of an All Black side confident in their new combinations after routing an undisciplined Ireland last weekend.
Carisbrook, despite defeats on their last two visits, remains the All Blacks' favourite hunting ground and they have been keen to stress their desire to see the old girl off in style this weekend. They have won 30 of their 36 Tests there and with the odds already stacked against an injury-ravaged Wales side there is a fair chance that the hosts will erase memories of defeats to South Africa in 2008 and France in 2009.
Wales' record on New Zealand soil makes for grim reading. Their three victories over the All Blacks came in their first four meetings and since Gareth Edwards and Co. arrived for their first tour in 1969, the tale has been frighteningly similar. Scores of 19-0 and 33-12 were recorded on that occasion, 52-3 and 54-9 in 1988 and for good measure 55-3 in 2003, when current All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen was at the helm.
Wales' efforts under Gatland have been of the 'close but no cigar' variety and while his desire to prepare for the Rugby World Cup with the toughest possible itinerary is admirable, there could be a few scars left should they come unstuck. In an ideal world Gatland would be checking out his side's World Cup base with loose-head Gethin Jenkins, wing Shane Williams, centres Gavin Henson, James Hook and Tom Shanklin, flankers Martyn Williams, Andy Powell and Sam Warburton and scrum-half Dwayne Peel in tow.
Due to injury and rest periods, he can't. Wales' tour squads in recent seasons have rarely been so troubled by injury and there may well be a sting in the tail as a result. New Zealand trialled a new-look side against Ireland, with six new caps in the 22, and the overall results were positive.
Before they took the foot off the gas in the latter stages, Israel Dagg was excellent at fullback, Benson Stanley a threat at No.12 and Ben Franks settled in well up front. From the bench we saw a powerful turn by Victor Vito, who gets his starting chance this weekend in place of the injured Jerome Kaino.
One of Wales' main hopes for this tour, and the preceding 34-31 loss to a weakened South Africa, was to blood Warburton against the colossal Richie McCaw. A broken jaw has put paid to that plan, leaving Dragons flanker Gavin Thomas with a chance in the limelight three years after his last Test cap. Thomas is a nuggety, difficult presence but will freely admit to having underperformed in his 22 caps, something that won't do this weekend.
Shorn of Williams, Tom Prydie continues his education on one wing with Leigh Halfpenny named on the other. Andrew Bishop partners Jamie Roberts in midfield in place of Hook while there is a recall for Alun Wyn Jones in the second-row. The vital question is whether the tourists can trouble the New Zealand defence minus their most creative players and without their most effective breakdown tools, Jenkins and Williams.
Ireland skipper Brian O'Driscoll confessed in the aftermath of last weekend's defeat that they could not cope with the speed of the All Blacks' ruck ball, and a similar problem is likely to strike Wales this weekend. If there isn't parity at the breakdown then Wales, and no doubt Prydie, will be subjected to Dan Carter's full arsenal.
Another major worry will be at the lineout, where their pitiful effort against the Springboks cannot be repeated. With the pressure on Wales must guarantee every scrap of possession available. If the All Blacks dictate the flow of the game, it could be a long 80 minutes.
Gatland was his typical self this week and hoped to impart some of his knowledge of New Zealand rugby to his side, having been a mainstay with Waikato and a frequent All Blacks tourist. He also took his chance to stir the pot briefly upon announcing his side, the prudence of which will be tested come kick-off.
"That's always the question, getting that monkey off your back and getting that confidence and self-belief," Gatland said. "Winning against South Africa and the All Blacks is at that stage where it will give us that self-belief and confidence, for New Zealand it's winning the World Cup, the same thing isn't it?"
New Zealand: I Dagg (Highlanders); C Jane (Hurricanes), C Smith (Hurricanes), B Stanley (Blues), J Rokocoko (Blues); D Carter (Crusaders), J Cowan (Highlanders); B Franks (Crusaders), K Mealamu (Blues), O Franks (Crusaders), B Thorn (Crusaders), A Boric (Blues), V Vito (Hurricanes), R McCaw (Crusaders, capt), K Read (Crusaders).
Replacements: A de Malmanche (Chiefs), T Woodcock (Blues), S Whitelock (Crusaders), A Thomson (Highlanders), P Weepu (Hurricanes), A Cruden (Hurricanes), R Kahui (Chiefs)
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), T Prydie (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); P James (Ospreys), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), AW Jones (Ospreys), J Thomas (Ospreys), G Thomas (Newport Gwent Dragons), R Jones (Ospreys, capt)
Replacements: H Bennett (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Cardiff Blues), R McCusker (Scarlets), T Knoyle (Scarlets), D Biggar (Ospreys), J Davies (Scarlets)
Referee: George Clancy (Ire)