The All Blacks’ end-of-year tour hits Cardiff where they will face an under-fire Wales team at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The All Blacks’ end-of-year tour hits Cardiff where they will face an under-fire Wales team in front of of a capacity Millennium Stadium crowd on Saturday.
After a convincing win in their tour opener against the USA and narrow victories over England and Scotland, the world champions will be determined to finish off in style against Wales.
There will also be extra motivation, as their captain Richie McCaw will set a personal milestone when he captains the All Blacks for the 100th time.
A remarkable achievement for the 33-year-old who has won 87 of his 99 previous Tests as captain. He first captained the All Blacks against Wales 10 years ago and will become the first player ever to captain his country in 100 Tests.
While McCaw doesn’t want to make a fuss of his achievement, his team-mates are determined to pay tribute to their leader by delivering a fitting performance.
“It’s a massive deal isn’t it,” said All Blacks number eight Kieran Read.
“It’s huge to play 100 tests for your country, let alone as captain.
“I don’t think it’s ever been done… so you thinking about that feat in itself is massive, and the legacy he will leave. It’s certainly impressive.”
The All Blacks will not be focusing on McCaw’s milestone while preparing for the Test, but Read said it would be a motivating factor on game day.
“He doesn’t want to make any deal of it really, typical man that he is, but… the way we can honour him is to go out and play well and get a good win,” added Read.
“Those type of things will be great to celebrate with him after the game.”
The world champions got a fright in their last match against Scotland – after coach Steve Hansen fielded a second-string starting XV – but the return of first-choice players like Read, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock. Aaron Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith will ensure that the All Blacks are as strong as possible.
2013’s IRB Player of the Year, Read, is widely regarded as the game’s leading number eight and his direct opponent, Taulupe Faletau, admits that his education at the base of Wales’ scrum will continue when the two face off this weekend.
“He has been up there among the best number eights in the world for a long time,” said Faletau.
“He is someone you look up to and can learn from.
“He has so much to his game – there are no obvious weaknesses. He does everything really well, and he can create something out of nothing.”
Wales have not beaten the Southern Hemisphere’s powerhouses – New Zealand, South Africa and Australia – since 2008. While they have come close to beating the Wallabies and the Springboks in that time, the same cannot be said of their duels against the All Blacks.
Their best result was a 19-12 defeat in 2009 and their last victory against New Zealand was registered in 1953. Wales coach Warren Gatland knows his team have a massive task ahead of them.
“We are expecting another clinical performance from the All Blacks. We need to match their intensity and aggression.
“The players are obviously excited about the opportunity to face the number one side at a packed Millennium Stadium. We have named an experienced team and we are really looking forward to it.”
Wales came close to beating Australia two weeks ago but after several personnel changes they battled to a 17-13 victory against Fiji last weekend.
Gatland has brought back in his first-choice players for the clash with the All Blacks, causing a stir by leaving out the in-form Liam Williams, but you get the feeling that they will have to play the game of their lives if they want beat the All Blacks and spoil McCaw’s party.
Ones to Watch
For Wales: There will be plenty of pressure on outside centre Jonathan Davies who comes straight in to the run-on side after recovering from a shoulder injury. Davies, at his best, is a superb attacker who is expected to unlock the All Blacks’ defence with his powerful runs. He will be highly motivated to get the better of his direct opponent, Conrad Smith, who has been the world’s best number 13 in recent seasons.
For New Zealand: All eyes will be on the world champions’ fly-half Beauden Barrett who finally gets a chance to show off his skills in the number 10 jersey on this tour. Barrett has been biding his time while Aaron Cruden and Dan Carter have steered the world champions’ ship and will be highly motivated to show coach Steve Hansen that he is the right man to wear the number ten jersey at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Head-to-head: While there are several fascinating battles across the park, none will have a bigger impact than the duel between All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and his counterpart Sam Warburton. Both are excellent foragers and their battle at the breakdown should make for riveting viewing. McCaw is the master of his trade but Warburton is no slouch and will be determined to get the better of the veteran in his 100th Test as captain. Their leadership will be as important as their decision-making, with both having a huge bearing on this game’s outcome.
2012: New Zealand won 33-10, Cardiff
2010: New Zealand won 37-25, Cardiff
2010: New Zealand won 29-10, Hamilton
2010: New Zealand won 42-9, Dunedin
2009: New Zealand won 19-12, Cardiff
2008: New Zealand won 29-9, Cardiff
2006: New Zealand won 45-10, Cardiff
2005: New Zealand won 41-3, Cardiff
2004: New Zealand won 26-25, Cardiff
2003: New Zealand won 26-25, Sydney
Prediction: Apart from their performance against a poor USA team, the All Blacks are yet to fire on all cylinders on their end-of-year tour. They should hit their straps this weekend though. New Zealand to win by 15 points!
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin , 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Luke Charteris , 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Saturday, November 22
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 17:30 local (GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Craig Joubert (