Even optimists struggle to see how Wales will beat New Zealand on Saturday with a team shorn of several players because the game falls outside the international window
Wales v New Zealand Preview – Autumn Internationals
As if beating New Zealand wasn’t difficult enough, Wales will attempt to do so this weekend without a raft of significant players. Dan Biggar, Louis Rees-Zammit and Taulupe Faletau head a list of English-based players who are unavailable for the fixture because it falls outside the international window and Premiership clubs have first dibs on their services.
Add in the absence of Liam Williams, out after having his appendix removed, and Uilisi Halaholo, who has tested positive for Covid, and Wales’ hopes of ending a 68-year drought against the All Blacks look forlorn. In a late twist, Ken Owens withdrew from the selected XV minutes after it was announced after failing a fitness test.
Wales have lost 31 games on the spin to Saturday’s opponents but their former scrum-half Mike Phillips insists even the mightiest foe can be brought down with the right mindset.
“They are more than a rugby team in many ways. They are the most successful team on the planet, a brand, and you are up against everything,” he said.
“Maybe that belief has not been there in the past. Perhaps we’ve been too nice at times and shown too much respect. Do you all believe each and every one of you that you’re going to win? You’ve got to be on your A game and the mindset has got to be that we’re going to win.”
New Zealand won the recent Rugby Championship by winning five of their six games against Argentina, Australia and South Africa. They fielded an understrength side against USA last weekend and still racked up 16 tries and more than a century of points in what coach Ian Foster deemed a “loose” performance.
Wales will certainly have it all to do at the Principality Stadium (kick-off 5.15pm).
What’s the big team news?
Alun Wyn Jones will lead Wales, in front of a capacity crowd for the first time since February 2019. In doing so, he will become the most capped international player of all time.
Jones will make his 149th appearance for Wales, surpassing Richie McCaw’s record of 148 appearances for New Zealand.
Gareth Anscombe makes his first Test start in more than two years, getting the nod ahead of Rhys Priestland. Biggar (Northampton) and Callum Sheedy (Bristol) are both unavailable.
Anscombe was a key part of Wales’ Grand Slam-winning team of 2019 but hasn’t played a Test since August of that year, when he suffered major ligament damage in a World Cup warm-up against England at Twickenham.
And Taine Basham, who won his first three caps off the bench against Canada and Argentina in July, will make his first Test start at openside flanker. He forms part of an all-Dragons back row with Ross Moriarty and Aaron Wainwright.
Halaholo’s absence clears the way for Johnny Williams to reprise his Scarlets club partnership with Jonathan Davies.
Despite the enforced absences, the starting XV contains four Test Lions from this summer’s series against South Africa in the skipper, prop Wyn Jones, lock Adam Beard and wing Josh Adams. Gareth Davies, who also toured, is on the bench.
There should have been a fifth Lion starter but Owens failed that fitness test on a back problem. Ryan Elias thus starts at hooker, with the uncapped Kirby Myhill on the bench.
Elliot Dee, who would have been in the match 23, has been released from the squad due to the neck injury he sustained against the Stormers a fortnight ago. He will return to his region to continue his rehab.
Cardiff’s Myhill has joined up as his replacement. The former Wales U20 captain has made 72 appearances for the capital city side and has led them on a number of occasions.
Beauden Barrett, twice World Rugby Player of the Year, will win his 100th cap for New Zealand. The 30-year-old fly-half becomes their 11th century-maker and is set to pass 700 Test points in Cardiff – he’s currently on 693, third on the All Blacks’ all-time scoring list behind Dan Carter and Andrew Mehrtens.
There are 12 changes from the side that routed USA 104-14 last weekend, with second-row Sam Whitelock, openside Dalton Papalii and wing Will Jordan, a hat-trick man in Washington, the three players asked to go again from the off.
Whitelock last week became the third most-capped All Black of all time, playing his 128th Test to surpass Kieran Read. Keven Mealamu is on 132 and McCaw 148.
DID YOU KNOW?
New Zealand will regain the No 1 world ranking from South Africa if they beat Wales. A Welsh victory would see them climb two places to seventh, above Scotland and Argentina
The front five is the same that took on South Africa in Gold Coast at the start of the month, with the exception of Scott Barrett, who, along with Patrick Tuipulotu, returned to New Zealand for family reasons before the match against the Eagles.
Aaron Smith, awaiting the birth of his second child, is a notable absentee. TJ Perenara, with 76 caps in the bank, will be an accomplished stand-in in a team brimming with menace.
What have the coaches said?
Wales head coach Wayne Pivac: “The focus for this group has been two weeks of training, they’ve worked really, really hard and it has galvanised them. We’ve been low on numbers this week. It hasn’t been the normal preparation in terms of exact numbers to train against each other, so that’s been a challenge.
“The guys are really excited but they know it’s a big task at hand. The reality is we’re two years away from a World Cup and we’re building towards that. We’ve got a Six Nations around the corner to defend, to try to win that tournament again.
“They know it’s a massive challenge ahead. Every young Welsh player when they’re growing up wants to play at the Principality in front of 74,000. And if you ask them who they want to play against, New Zealand would be one of the top couple of sides they’d choose.
“With injuries and unavailability, it’s another opportunity for players like Taine Basham and Ben Thomas to come into the group and gain valuable experience. They’re going to come away from this Test match knowing what it’s like to play one of the best teams in the world.
“To win a World Cup you have to play against teams like New Zealand at some stage in the tournament. It’s going to be a great experience for those guys who haven’t played a lot of Test rugby. They’ll certainly know they’ve been in a match afterwards.”
New Zealand head coach Ian Foster said: “It’s a very special time for Beauden and his family and also a special time for this team and its legacy. He’s a big part of this team, he’s a key leader, he’s captained the All Blacks, he’s vice-captain on this tour and he’s an influencer on and off the park. I can’t speak more highly about his contribution as a person to the black jersey. The chance to play his 100th Test at this stadium against Wales is really special.
“The All Blacks have always loved touring North, these Test matches are a big part of our history as a rugby team and it’s been three years since we played in Europe, so there’s a real sense of excitement. What better place to start than at a packed-out stadium in Cardiff.
“The Welsh will play with their traditional passion and their fans singing in the stadium, and they’ll throw everything at us. They are Six Nations champions and a very good team. They have a group of young players coming through who will be excited to play, so we will have to be ready. And we are.”
What time does it kick-off and is it on TV?
The match will kick-off at 5.15pm BST on Saturday, 30 October. Referee Mathieu Raynal, assistant referees Karl Dickson and Christophe Ridley and TMO Brian MacNeice will take charge of the game.
Wales v New Zealand will be live on Amazon Prime. For the first time on the streaming service, Welsh matches will also be available in the Welsh language. For more details on that and all the information on commentators and pundits, click here.
What are the Wales v New Zealand line-ups?
Wales: Johnny McNicholl; Owen Lane, Jonathan Davies, Johnny Williams, Josh Adams; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Wyn Jones, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Adam Beard, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Ross Moriarty, Taine Basham, Aaron Wainwright.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rhys Carre, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Seb Davies, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Ben Thomas.
New Zealand: Jordie Barrett; Will Jordan, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock (capt), Ethan Blackadder, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Sevu Reece.
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