Autumn Internationals Preview: Wales v New Zealand

Date: Saturday 27th November?
Kick off: 17:15?
Venue: Millennium Stadium

Wales:

Few of the 55,000 at the Millennium Stadium last Friday would have seen a worse Wales display. Adjectives such as ‘abysmal’ and ’embarrassing’ echoed around a crowd more preoccupied with contributing to Mexican Waves. Having out-played South Africa six-days before Wales appeared set for a moral boosting victory over a second-string Fiji, but few things in Welsh rugby run as seamlessly as could be hoped. Eighty minutes of dispiriting Welsh play may potentially have undermined all the steps taken forward under Warren Gatland.

What is most concerning is not that Wales were out-muscled or that they were error-ridden, it is that they were passive. All too often the men in blue drifted through long stretches of the game without any real purpose as to what they were trying to do – they were directionless. Execution of whatever game plan the players were trying to follow was so poor they may as well have not had one.

Now Wales are left with the prospect of facing an All Blacks side that are on the verge of completing a grand-slam of victories over the home nations. A tough ask at the best of times, let alone when your confidence has taken a real knock. While a number of individuals effectively played themselves out of contention last week, Warren Gatland has at least been able recall key individuals to his starting XV, and makes the prospect of at least competing with the All Blacks slightly more realistic.

New Zealand:

Eighteen wins in twenty tests for the All Blacks tells it’s own story. The former Wales coaching duo of Graham Henry and Steve Hansen have overseen a New Zealand side that are very much on an upward curve, with a few minor hiccups along the way. No side in test rugby appears anywhere close to matching their all round strength. The autumn internationals have further strengthened their position as favourites to win the Rugby World Cup on home soil next year – such has been the way in which they have dismantled British and Irish opposition on tour.

What to expect:

Wales will come out swinging after the battering they have taken in the media, and even from their own management, since their horror show against the Fijians. The All Blacks will be taking nothing for granted and will be as ruthless and efficient as ever. While the tourists’ have no obvious weaknesses on paper, Wales however may find themselves targeted in the outside-backs, where injury has left them looking vulnerable. New Zealand will also be confident of asserting their physical superiority at the gain line.

All eyes on:

Wales will look to Matthew Rees to produce a performance befitting his new status as first choice captain, following the demotion of Ryan Jones. The hooker needs to lead from the front – both in terms of ball carrying and throwing in at the lineout.

It is very hard to look past Dan Carter for the All Blacks. The mercurial outside half only needs to add three more points to his tally, to overtake Jonny Wilkinson as the leading point scorer in test rugby history. Carter is pivotal to everything that the tourists do, and whilst the likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith have been given the plaudits recently, Carter is the player who still runs the show.

Head to head: Sam Warburton v Richie McCaw

Sam Warburton returns to the side after missing the last couple of fixtures with a calf injury, and the openside has an incredible challenge opposite in the shape of Richie McCaw. Warren Gatland seems to have picked a back row to challenge at the breakdown, and they’ll need to compete fiercely to prevent quick All Black ball, and to nullify McCaw when they are in possession. If McCaw is at his rampaging best Wales could be in for a long evening.

Last year’s result: 7th November 2009 – Wales 12-19 New Zealand.

Prediction: Wales are carrying the burden of having failed to defeat the All Blacks in 57 years. The last time they came seriously close to victory over them was in 2004, losing by a single point. However that was a Welsh side with momentum behind them coming up against an inexperienced Kiwi outfit. Now the momentum is all with the New Zealanders to complete a grand slam tour, and the only question is how tough the home side make their task. New Zealand by 15.

By Paul French