All Blacks juggernaut ready to steamroll Wales
CARDIFF (AFP) –
World champions New Zealand go into their Test match against Wales as overwhelming favourites as they seek to defend a 27-match winning run in their November internationals dating back to 2002.
But it could all have been so differently scripted a year ago, after a flamboyant Welsh side performed so well at the World Cup and then went on to win a third Six Nations Grand Slam in eight years.
Consistency, the key element the All Blacks have nailed down, has well and truly deserted Wales, a loss for whom on Saturday would represent a sixth consecutive defeat, their worst run of defeats since 2003.
Defeats over the last two weeks by Argentina and Samoa, combined with the three-Test losing tour to Australia in June, mean that Wales have not won a match since early June when they beat the Barbarians 30-21.
And history will definitely not be on Wales’ side come Saturday. The match is the 29th Test match between the two teams, with the All Blacks having won 25 times, and Wales’ last victory coming way back in 1953.
New Zealand are also unbeaten in 19 matches over the last 15 months, with their last defeat in an autumn series being a 31-28 loss to England in 2002.
This time around, they have already dispatched Scotland (51-22) and Italy (42-10) with ease, coach Steve Hansen even having the luxury of experimenting with his starting line-ups to give all of his 32-man squad a run.
But for Wales, Hansen has fallen back on a no-nonsense selection, choosing to field the most experienced XV of any nation in the November internationals so far, with 746 Test caps, compared to 529 for Wales.
The core of captain Richie McCaw, playmaker Dan Carter, centre Ma’a Nonu, hooker Andrew Hore and loosehead prop Tony Woodcock have all played more than 70 internationals for New Zealand.
“We have always known that this game will be a fiercely contested match… we have known since the World Cup that this would be the the game they would be targeting in this series,” Hansen said.
“So any recent performances or results won’t have any bearing on this match.”
Carter has been ruled out of Saturday’s match after injuring his leg in training, the team confirmed on Friday.
The 30-year-old Carter, capped 93 times for New Zealand and Test rugby’s highest points scorer, pulled up in training on Thursday with “a leg twinge”.
The playmaker’s replacement will be understudy Aaron Cruden, with Beauden Barrett moving on to the bench.
One startling statistic ahead of the game is the try-scoring records of each team.
Wales have notched up just five tries in their last five games; by comparison, the All Blacks have scored 22.
Wales’ hopes received a dent when winger George North was ruled out late with injury, and coach Warren Gatland will be hoping his return to the helm might aid his team to rediscover their cutting edge.
“No one is more disappointed than the players and the coaches with how things have gone in the last two weeks,” said Gatland, who has spent the last two weeks scouting as the British and Irish Lions coach for next summer’s tour to Australia, Rob Howley having filled in for the losses to Argentina and Samoa.
“This New Zealand team is one of the best rugby sides to have ever played the game, and probably the best All Blacks team ever, so it will be a privilege to be able to test ourselves against them.”