Planet Rugby

Preview: Wales v New Zealand

23rd November 2012 05:32


Alex Cuthbert Wales

Wales: Getting desperate

Wales will be under mounting pressure to avoid a sixth successive defeat as they chase a first-ever win over New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The hosts have suffered five Test losses on the bounce going into this clash, while the world champions are on a 19-game unbeaten run and looking to defend a 24-match winning sequence against their hosts that stretches back almost 60 years.

Over the course of the past fortnight Wales have been unrecognisable from the team that reached the World Cup semi-finals and then secured a Six Nations Grand Slam. Indeed, the highs of the Rugby World Cup and the Six Nations seem a distant memory.

Gone is the dazzling back play that has so often characterized Wales teams down the years, whilst the pack made no impression against Argentina and Samoa as they were dominated at the breakdown in both matches.

Another loss will not only be the Dragons' worst form slump since the 2002-03 season, when current All Blacks boss Steve Hansen coached Wales, but could also possibly relegate them outside the world's top eight nations in the IRB world rankings.

That would mean the Welsh being third seeds when the pool draw for the 2015 World Cup is made on December 3.

And after Saturday's hit-out, it doesn't get any easier for Wales with Australia looming over the horizon which could see the Wallabies complete an end-of-year whitewash for the hosts.

However, the return of Warren Gatland could be the tonic needed for Wales to redeem themselves in what is proving to be a chastening month of November internationals. Away on preparatory British and Irish Lions business for next year's tour Down Under while losses to Argentina and Samoa unfolded, Gatland is back in the hot seat this week tasked with transforming Wales' wilting fortunes.

"We've let ourselves down," he said.

"I'm not going to be here forever and part of my role is to develop the playing and coaching staff. I've no regrets (about the Lions job). We've had a little dip and we need to get back on the horse.

"It is not a physical issue, we need to up the tempo and face the challenge. It is just about getting the head right."

"A lot of the guys have had a bit of abuse on Twitter and it's about how you deal with that," added Gatland.

"It's been quite personal for some of them. It's about dealing with a crisis for the first time. These are young men going through a challenging time and adversity will make them stronger. This has been the first time many of them have been under this kind of pressure."

Hansen, meanwhile, believes the flak that has flown Wales' way during their dismal Test series will galvanise them on Saturday.

Gatland's opposite number is completely on guard for the threat Wales could pose, especially after they have been so widely written-off.

"I don't have too much sympathy for them - I am in the opposition camp these days!" he said.

"But what it does do is I know it will make them tighter. Invariably, when they get criticised, they get tighter. It will make them more dangerous, I think."

Perhaps. But whilst Wales have been suffering badly since their southern hemisphere excursion earlier this year, the All Blacks have gone from strength to strength - although the length of involvement must be starting to tell on bodies now.

Wales would need to have a significant uplift in performance levels to seriously test the All Blacks while the visitors have the goal of a finishing 2012 unbeaten.

New Zealand, however, suffered a potential injury setback involving fly-half superstar Dan Carter who pulled up in training with a leg twinge. A decision on his fitness is expected to be made when the All Blacks conduct their final pre-match training run at the Millennium Stadium. If 93 time-capped Carter is ruled out, then Aaron Cruden would be favourite to replace him.

Ones to watch:

For Wales: Scarlets midfield powerhouse Jonathan Davies has recovered from a groin problem to make his first appearance of the November series on Saturday, replacing Ashley Beck. His attacking threat was sorely missed as toothless Wales managed just one interception try and one linebreak from the two games. Greater creativity will be needed if the Six Nations champions are to have any hope of taking the game to the world champions and the return of Davies is a major boost.

For New Zealand: An unsung contributor to the side has been blindside flanker Liam Messam. He started the season wanting to be a consistent performer for the All Blacks and he has clearly achieved that goal. After leap-frogging Adam Thomson and Victor Vito, Messam has once again been retained in New Zealand's back row for perhaps the biggest start of his career and maybe a chance to finally claim a more permanent role. And the Chiefs co-captain will be looking to repay Hansen's faith with a stellar outing. He has been dumped plenty of times, most cruelly before last year's Rugby World Cup, but now has been given the opportunity to make the number six jersey his own.

Head to head: Jamie Roberts v Ma'a Nonu: Two world class centres face-off in this mouth-watering midfield battle. Both number 12's are often used as battering rams for their respective teams, but the Welsh will be relying on Roberts - 1.93m tall and 110 kilograms - to inspire their stagnant attack and bring Wales' back three into the game... easier said than done with Ma'a Nonu breathing down his neck.

Recent results:
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 53-37, Sydney
2003: New Zealand won 55-3, Hamilton

Prediction: Humiliation awaits against the All Blacks unless an out-of-sorts Wales can summon up a monumental recovery. And even with Gatland back at the helm, one feels he faces a Herculean task attempting to turn things around. New Zealand by 15!

The teams:

Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Ryan Jones, 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Aaron Shingler, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 James Hook, 23 Scott Williams.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock. Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Ben Smith.

Date: Saturday, November 24
Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garces, Greg Garner (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

Forthcoming Fixtures
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 5
Northampton vs Gloucester19:45
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 5
Ospreys vs Benetton Treviso19:35
Munster vs Edinburgh19:35
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , August 30
La Rochelle vs Toulouse14:45
Castres vs BayonneCastres vs Bayonne Preview
Grenoble vs Bordeaux-Begles18:30
Lyon vs Brive18:30
Oyonnax vs Stade Francais18:30
Racing Metro Paris vs Toulon20:45
Friday , September 5
Montpellier vs Castres20:45
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Saturday , August 30
Griquas vs Cheetahs15:00
Blue Bulls vs Western ProvinceBlue Bulls vs Western Province Preview
Eastern Province Kings vs Lions19:10
Friday , September 5
Western Province vs Eastern Province Kings19:10
More Currie Cup fixtures
Saturday , August 30
Southland vs Otago17:35
North Harbour vs WaikatoNorth Harbour vs Waikato Preview
Sunday , August 31
Taranaki vs Bay Of Plenty14:35
Auckland vs TasmanAuckland vs Tasman Preview
Wednesday, September 3
Manawatu vs Bay Of Plenty19:35
Thursday , September 4
Otago vs Canterbury19:35
Friday , September 5
Tasman vs Waikato18:05
Northland vs Hawkes Bay20:05
More ITM Cup fixtures
Recent Results
All times are local
Saturday , August 30
Counties Manukau 21 - 27 Hawkes BayCounties Manukau vs Hawkes Bay Report
More ITM Cup results
Top 14
Friday , August 29
Clermont Auvergne 20 - 21 MontpellierClermont Auvergne vs Montpellier Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Pumas 32 - 22 SharksPumas vs Sharks Report
More Currie Cup results
Wellington 21 - 27 ManawatuWellington vs Manawatu Report
Thursday , August 28
Canterbury 48 - 3 NorthlandCanterbury vs Northland Report
Wednesday, August 27
Waikato 17 - 46 TaranakiWaikato vs Taranaki Report
Sunday , August 24
Manawatu 7 - 35 AucklandManawatu vs Auckland Report
Bay Of Plenty 27 - 56 TasmanBay Of Plenty vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Rugby Championship
Saturday , August 23
New Zealand 51 - 20 AustraliaNew Zealand vs Australia Report
Argentina 31 - 33 South AfricaArgentina vs South Africa Report
More Rugby Championship results
Top 14
Brive 6 - 21 Clermont AuvergneBrive vs Clermont Auvergne Report
Bayonne 38 - 12 Oyonnax
Montpellier 20 - 17 GrenobleMontpellier vs Grenoble Report
Stade Francais 23 - 20 Lyon
Toulon 60 - 19 La Rochelle
Bordeaux-Begles 30 - 21 Racing Metro Paris
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Blue Bulls 30 - 25 Eastern Province KingsBlue Bulls vs Eastern Province Kings Report
Sharks 19 - 16 CheetahsSharks vs Cheetahs Report
Western Province 27 - 14 LionsWestern Province vs Lions Report
More Currie Cup results
Northland 35 - 5 WellingtonNorthland vs Wellington Report
Counties Manukau 29 - 25 OtagoCounties Manukau vs Otago Report
More ITM Cup results
Top 14
Friday , August 22
Toulouse 35 - 6 CastresToulouse vs Castres Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Pumas 33 - 15 GriquasPumas vs Griquas Report
More Currie Cup results
Waikato 27 - 58 CanterburyWaikato vs Canterbury Report
Hawkes Bay 29 - 26 TaranakiHawkes Bay vs Taranaki Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership Table
5Leicester Tigers00