Wales out to overturn weight of history
June 24, 2010
Dan Carter is back for more against Wales © Getty Images
One of the oldest clichés in the book, 'so near and yet so far', will have been of little solace to Wales this week after their latest false start against the All Blacks yielded a demoralising 42-9 thumping in Dunedin last weekend.
Warren Gatland's tourists have another shot at overturning their losing streak, now at 22 Tests and 57 years, in his hometown of Hamilton on Saturday but will need to show greater finishing prowess as well as proving that they can live with their hosts for a full 80 minutes.
The scoreline at Carisbrook did not reflect the balance of the game, particularly the competitiveness of the Welsh challenge in the first-half, but did underline the gulf in class between the sides when it comes to playing at pace and producing quick ball.
As he has been in so many of his 68 Tests, Dan Carter was superb at the helm of the All Blacks' effort and with his pack producing wave after wave of counter-attacking ball his 27-point haul, including two brilliant tries, proved to be the major difference.
Carter is back for more this time around after coming through training although lingering doubts over a calf problem mean that his place could be taken at the 11th hour by Hurricanes youngster Aaron Cruden. Opposing Carter will be 20-year-old Welshman Dan Biggar, who faces comfortably the largest challenge of his young Test career.
His two previous starts, both in 2009, came against Canada and Samoa although he has been an ever-present for the Ospreys this season, starting their crunch Heineken Cup games against Leicester and Biarritz as well as the Magners League Grand Final victory over Leinster.
Biggar will benefit from familiarity with his scrum-half, Ospreys colleague Mike Phillips, and has been a regular member of the squad, including the Six Nations, since his debut in 2008. The only other change for the tourists comes in the centre, where another youngster, the Scarlets' Jonathan Davies, replaces the injured Andrew Bishop.
Worryingly for Gatland's charges, the All Blacks' coaches have opted to flex their selection muscles and introduce a host of hungry talent. With the impressive Israel Dagg ruled out due to concussion, 82-Test veteran Mils Muliaina is given a chance to prove his fitness at fullback while flying winger Zac Guildford has been hammering on the door for some game-time since the start of the international season.
Injury has also struck centre Conrad Smith, meaning a start for Richard Kahui on his home ground and a chance to add another five points to his record after picking up a solo effort last weekend. The Franks brothers, Owen and Ben, got their teeth into Wales in Dunedin but have made way for the return match, with Tony Woodcock and Neemia Tialata getting a shot at loose-head and tight-head respectively. In the second-row there is a welcome return for Tom Donnelly prior to the Tri-Nations while Jerome Kaino has recovered from injury to add extra steel to the back-row alongside skipper Richie McCaw and No.8 Kieran Read.
The Welsh back-row remains unchanged, with Gavin Thomas getting a second crack at McCaw, and they will need to show considerable improvement if they are to stop the supply of possession at source. The conspicuous carries of Bradley Davies and skipper Ryan Jones disappeared in the second half of the last meeting as the All Blacks strode clear and Wales must attempt to match fire with fire as the clock ticks on.
Wales were accused in some quarters of lacking the fitness to stick with the fresh and firing All Blacks last weekend and the camp will be all-too-aware that they need to put in their first 80-minute performance of the season if they are to cause a major upset.
"The thing about New Zealand is that whatever you achieve outside this country, unless you perform here, you don't earn the respect of the New Zealand public or the New Zealand media, that's just a reality," Gatland said.
"Whatever you've achieved in the northern hemisphere, whatever you've won as a player or a coach, unless you can come to New Zealand and win, or at least push a team right to the limit, then you don't leave this country with the respect of the people and that's important to us."
Their coach wants respect from his countrymen, but do Wales have the belief to make New Zealand sit up and take notice?
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina (Chiefs); Cory Jane (Hurricanes), Richard Kahui (Chiefs), Benson Stanley (Blues), Zac Guildford (Crusaders); Daniel Carter (Crusaders), Jimmy Cowan (Highlanders); Tony Woodcock (Blues), Keven Mealamu (Blues), Neemia Tialata (Hurricanes), Brad Thorn (Crusaders), Tom Donnelly (Highlanders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Richie McCaw (Crusaders), Kieran Read (Crusaders).
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche (Chiefs), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Sam Whitelock (Crusaders), Adam Thomson (Highlanders), Piri Weepu (Hurricanes); Aaron Cruden (Hurricanes), Rene Ranger (Blues)
Wales: Lee Byrne (Ospreys); Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Cardiff Blues), Tom Prydie (Ospreys); Dan Biggar (Ospreys), Mike Phillips (Ospreys); Paul James (Ospreys), Matthew Rees (Scarlets), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Bradley Davies (Cardiff Blues), Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys), Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys), Gavin Thomas (Newport-Gwent Dragons), Ryan Jones (Ospreys, capt).
Replacements: Huw Bennett (Ospreys), Craig Mitchell (Ospreys), Deiniol Jones (Cardiff Blues), Rob McCusker (Scarlets), Richard Rees (Cardiff Blues), Stephen Jones (Scarlets), Will Harries (Newport-Gwent Dragons)
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (RSA)