Wales look to derail All Blacks' grand slam tour
November 22, 2008
Richie McCaw soaks in the sights of the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Wales coach Warren Gatland has retained the team beaten by world champions South Africa for the Millennium Stadium clash against New Zealand.
Gatland still hopes Ospreys fly-half James Hook will recover in time from a knee injury to line up among the replacements on Saturday. Hook limped off during the 34-13 victory over Canada last Friday but has been bracketed alongside his Ospreys colleague Dan Biggar on the Wales bench.
Gloucester scrum-half Gareth Cooper has seen off the challenge of Dwayne Peel, while 19-year-old Cardiff Blues wing Leigh Halfpenny keeps out experienced Scarlets speedster Mark Jones.
Wales captain Ryan Jones again features at blind-side flanker, with the Blues' Andy Powell - man of the match in the 20-15 defeat against South Africa 10 days ago - keeping number eight duties.
Gatland said: "James Hook has shown signs of improvement in the knee injury that forced his withdrawal against Canada. Although he will not train today, we will be looking for him to run out later in the week to prove his fitness. If he is not available to us, his Ospreys colleague Dan Biggar will provide fly-half cover from the bench."
Despite losing to the Springboks, Wales created enough opportunities that Gatland was furious his Six Nations champions did not record a famous victory. But that complete starting line-up now has another chance to undo an unnerving trend that has seen Wales go 55 years and 19 Tests without beating the All Blacks.
Two confirmed changes on the bench see Blues prop John Yapp in for an injured Duncan Jones and Newport Gwent Dragons lock Luke Charteris replacing Ian Gough. Biggar, 19, would be a third switch.
Cooper, meanwhile, has been retained - despite Gloucester selecting him in their match-day 22 for Guinness Premiership duty on Sunday after the International Rugby Board ruled that Wales did not have to release him.
Gatland added: "The coaches, the fans, the players and everyone involved in rugby in Wales knows exactly how big a game this is for us.
"The All Blacks are the team to beat in the world game. They are the yardstick by which every nation measures themselves - and we are no different - but we are relishing the opportunity presented to us.
"I've often said that it is only by playing the best teams in the world that we can improve ourselves, and we have a chance to show some big improvements on Saturday. In selection, we have said 'same again' to the side which took on South Africa in our opening match of the autumn series. We were critical in-house of aspects of that performance, and that side has a chance to respond to that criticism.
"For the likes of Andy Powell and Leigh Halfpenny, who both had impressive debuts, our message is also the same - both players need to simply enjoy the experience and have nothing to fear.
"For some of the more senior heads in the side, we know we are looking for outstanding performances from each and every one of them if we are to be able to match the opposition."
Graham Henry expects "the kitchen sink" from Wales on Saturday when they attempt to derail New Zealand's potential grand slam tour.
All Blacks boss Henry has made a solitary change from the team that toppled Ireland 22-3 last weekend, with centre Richard Kahui replacing Conrad Smith. Wellington star Smith was not considered for the Wales clash because of a groin injury.
Prop Tony Woodcock's availability was confirmed on Wednesday night after he was cleared to play by disciplinary chiefs in Dublin and he has subsequently be confirmed in the starting line-up. Hooker Keven Mealamu has also been confirmed as a starter and the tighthead berth will be filled by Neemia Tialata.
New Zealand have beaten Wales 19 times in succession, boasting an unbeaten record against them since suffering a 13-8 defeat at Cardiff Arms Park 55 years ago.
Elsewhere replacement hooker Corey Flynn, who was named on the bench for this weekend's clash, has since been forced out of the tour with a fractured forearm. His place amongst the replacements will be taken by Hikawera Elliot.
The All Blacks average more than 30 points a time during their long undefeated run, yet former Wales supremo Henry is taking nothing for granted this weekend.
He said: "I am expecting the kitchen sink from Wales. They are a proven side, and we are expecting a tough contest. They are Six Nations champions this year, and that is a fine achievement. Wales have got good players across the pitch, that's why they won the Six Nations. They play with a wonderful attitude.
"Their forwards are good ball players, and they also defend well. They are a pretty complete package, really."
New Zealand will go into battle as firm favourites, having seen off Scotland and Ireland during the past 11 days without conceding a try. It has left them halfway towards completing a successful grand slam tour, with Wales awaiting them on Saturday, followed by England at Twickenham seven days later.
But Henry insisted: "I know it's a cliche, but we take it one game at a time. We will talk about the grand slam after England, if it's a reality. We haven't talked about it. If things happen because we play decent rugby, then that is a bonus.
"It is a long season. We will have played 15 Test matches by the time we've finished, which is the largest number of Test matches an All Blacks side will have played in a year. I thought the guys played some good stuff against Ireland. We seemed to push on further."
And Henry has dismissed any prospect of an All Blacks hangover, with his players returning to the Millennium Stadium for the first time since quarter-final opponents France destroyed their World Cup dream last year. He added: "I've been involved in a fair few games at the stadium - some good and some disappointing. It is one of the best stadiums in the world. The crowd is very vocal, and there is a huge atmosphere."
Wales: L Byrne (Ospreys); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), G Cooper (Gloucester); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets), A Jones (Ospreys), A-W Jones (Ospreys), I Evans (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys, capt), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), A Powell (Cardiff Blues).
Replacements: R Hibbard (Ospreys), J Yapp (Cardiff Blues), L Charteris (Newport Gwent Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), D Peel (Sale Sharks), J Hook (Ospreys)/D Biggar (Ospreys), A Bishop (Ospreys)
New Zealand: M Muliaina; J Rokocoko, R Kahui, M Nonu, S Sivivatu; D Carter, J Cowan; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, N Tialata, B Thorn, A Williams, J Kaino (capt), R McCaw (capt), R So'oialo.
Replacements: H Elliot , J Afoa, A Boric, K Read, P Weepu, S Donald, I Toeava.
Referee: J. Kaplan (SA)
Assistant Referees: D. Pearson (Eng) C. Wessels (SA)
TMO: S. Veldsman (SA)