All Blacks out to heap woe on Wales
November 22, 2012
Warren Gatland returned to the Wales helm this week and was immediately the centre of attention © PA Photos
Wales will attempt breathe life into their disastrous end of year campaign when they tackle New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday night.
The hosts are reeling from a battering at the hands of Argentina and a stunning defeat against Samoa that has seen their reputation and world ranking plummet. Warren Gatland has returned to the helm this week having spent the last fortnight concentrating on his duties as British & Irish Lions boss and will immediately set about conjuring a return to top form for the Six Nations champions.
And they will need to be in good shape for the visit of the All Blacks who are riding a 19 game unbeaten run that has seen them power to the Rugby World Cup crown, the Rugby Championship title and account for Scotland and Italy in their opening tour clashes.
The stage is set for an unofficial world championship with the All Blacks having swept to the southern hemisphere crown and Wales beaten all their European rivals on their way to a Grand Slam - the only problem is that only one side is currently playing like champions which spells bad news for the hosts unless they can reverse their alarming slide.
Wales - Player to Watch: Like many of his team-mates, Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland has struggled to find his best game in 2012 and must do so in Cardiff if his opposite number Dan Carter is not to run the show.
Wales - Team News: Wales captain Sam Warburton returns to the side at the expense of Justin Tipuric in one five changes to the team beaten by Samoa. There are also starts for centre Jonathan Davies, fly-half Rhys Priestland, hooker Matthew Rees and lock Luke Charteris. Davies has recovered from a groin problem, replacing Ashley Beck, while Priestland takes over from Dan Biggar, who was not considered because of a shoulder injury. Former Wales captain Rees, meanwhile, returns to the front-row, where he will pack down alongside Paul James and Aaron Jarvis, with Charteris in for Ian Evans, who has taken only a limited part in training due to knee trouble.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Winger Julian Savea has been in sensational form this year having only made his debut back in June. He has notched 10 tries in seven Tests and will fancy his chances of adding to that impressive number.
New Zealand - Team News: The All Blacks have made a total of eight changes to the side that swept the Azzurri aside with loose-head prop Tony Woodcock the only player to survive in the tight five. He will pack down alongside hooker Andrew Hore and tight-head Owen Franks with Luke Romano and Sam Whitelock partnered in the second row. Liam Messam keeps his spot at blindside with rival Adam Thomson's availability in question after the International Rugby Board chose to appeal his recent one-match ban that they saw as 'unduly lenient'. Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith will continue their record-breaking partnership in midfield with Israel Dagg named at fullback in the place of Beauden Barrett. Cory Jane gets the nod over Hosea Gear on the right wing with the in-form Julian Savea is retained on the left. Aaron Smith is preferred at scrum-half ahead of Piri Weepu. Dan Carter was originally named at fly-half but was forced to pull out with a leg injury with Aaron Cruden getting promoted to the starting XV and in the process, retaining his berth from last week.
Key Battle: A mouth-watering back-row battle awaits with the All Blacks' all-conquering triumvirate of Liam Messam, Richie McCaw and Read tackle Wales' Ryan Jones, Sam Warburton and Toby Faletau. If the home side are to upset the odds then they must dominate in this area of the game.
Trivia: This weekend's Test against the All Blacks is the 90th Test Wales have played at the Millennium Stadium since it opened in 1999. Of those 90 matches, Wales have won 46, drawn three and lost 40, giving them a 53% winning record.
Stats: A loss this weekend against New Zealand would make it Wales' sixth consecutive defeat, their worst run of losses since 2003. They lost 10 consecutive matches between November 2002 and August 2003.
"New Zealand were there for the taking."
"They wanted to play us in the final of the World Cup and told us they were going to beat us. This is their opportunity to prove that."
Prediction: All Blacks head coach - and former Wales boss - Steve Hansen hinted a few weeks ago that he prizes Wales' scalp above all others so expect the All Blacks to kick it up a gear again and put the hosts to the sword.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14